North Sea Review
In the wake of five accidents in the past four years, including two fatal accidents, North Sea helicopter operations are under review by a team of regulators and aviation experts.
The review — by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Norwegian CAA, along with a panel of independent experts — is focusing on current operations, past incidents and accidents, and offshore helicopter operations in other countries. It will conclude with recommendations aimed at improving the safety of helicopter operations.
“The recent accidents have understandably given rise to concerns, particularly with offshore workers who rely so heavily on these helicopter flights,” said Mark Swan, director of the U.K. CAA Safety and Airspace Regulation Group. “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that operations are as safe as possible.”
In announcing the review, the U.K. CAA noted that the five accidents — each involving a Eurocopter Super Puma being flown in support of offshore oil and gas operations — occurred despite “considerable effort by regulators, operators and the offshore industry to minimize the risk of North Sea helicopter operations.”
The most recent accident occurred Aug. 23, when a Eurocopter AS332 L2 Super Puma crashed into the sea during an approach to Sumburgh Airport in the Shetland Islands. Four of the 18 people in the helicopter were killed.
Earlier in August, the three North Sea operators of Super Pumas had begun putting the helicopters back in the air after a 10-month grounding that followed two nonfatal ditchings in 2012. At the time, they said that modifications had been made to prevent cracking in the main gearbox bevel gear vertical shaft of affected EC225s and AS332s. Such cracking had occurred in each of the two ditched helicopters.
The two other accidents involved an AS332 L2 that crashed into the sea 11 mi (18 km) northeast of Peterhead, Scotland, on April 1, 2009, killing all 16 passengers and crewmembers, and an EC225 LP that “landed heavily” on the sea 500 m (1,640 ft) from an offshore platform on Feb. 18, 2009, resulting in three minor injuries to passengers.
The first U.S. government–approved commercial flight of an unmanned aircraft was completed in mid-September over Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says.
An Insitu ScanEagle took off from a research vessel for a 36-minute flight to conduct the surveys of marine mammals and ice that are required by environmental and safety rules before underwater drilling may begin, the FAA said in a Sept. 23 statement.
Preparations for the flight and others like it began in May 2012, with development of a plan to designate three blocks of airspace over international waters where small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) could operate 24 hours a day for research and commercial purposes. That area sees an “extremely low amount of air and ship traffic,” the FAA said.
Under the plan, unmanned aircraft take off from coastal launch sites and climb to altitudes no higher than 2,000 ft.
“The plan also included developing protocols to operate unmanned aircraft beyond the vision of a pilot or observer (‘beyond line-of-sight’) — a first for small UAS operations,” the FAA said.
Two small UAS — the ScanEagle X200 and AeroVironment’s PUMA — received the first civil type certificates from the FAA in late July so that both could be flown commercially. Around the same time, the FAA signed an agreement with ConocoPhillips, which previously had expressed interest in using UAS for its marine mammal and ice surveys.
UAS also are expected to be used in the Arctic for scientific research, search and rescue, fisheries and maritime route planning, the FAA said.
“The project is giving the FAA and the industry needed experience and a path forward to certify UAS for more commercial operations, both in the Arctic and elsewhere,” the agency said.
Congestion in European Airspace
The European Commission (EC) is pressuring Cyprus, Greece and Italy to establish functional airspace blocks (FABs) — regional air traffic blocks that are required by law to replace the current 27 national air traffic blocks and create the Single European Sky (SES).
The EC, in a letter of formal notice, asked the three countries to show how they have complied with the requirement.
“This legal action should send a strong political message about our determination to push through the reforms to Europe’s air traffic control that are so badly needed,” EC Vice President Siim Kallas said. “Our airlines and their passengers have had to endure more than 19 years of reduced services and missed deadlines on the route to a Single European Sky. We cannot afford to continue this way. Europe’s skies face a capacity crunch, and the reform of our aging air traffic control system is too important … to be allowed to fail.”
The EC said it is considering other action to speed the implementation of operational FABs. The deadline for their implementation was December 2012, but by September 2013, none was fully operational, Kallas said.
In addition, the EC has adopted proposals for SES2+ — legislative measures designed to accelerate improvements in the European air traffic management system, including a plan that would make the implementation of FABs more flexible.
Next Steps for Africa
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is pressing to expand its Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa (AFI Plan) to include technical areas such as air navigation services and aircraft accident investigation.
Bernard Aliu, Nigeria’s representative on the ICAO Council and former head of the AFI Plan’s steering committee, told more than 200 participants at a September briefing in Montreal that the program has been responsible for recent improvements in aviation safety in Africa.
ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin agreed, adding, “To maintain our momentum, we must now jointly expand our areas of activity and confirm the continued engagement of AFI states and the relevant authorities.”
Expansion of the program through 2016 also would allow for a new focus on airports, as well as air routes and ground aids, ICAO said.
In a related development, Tony Tyler, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told representatives of Africa’s aviation community that the continent continues to face major challenges in several areas, including safety and infrastructure.
He cited data showing that in 2012, African airlines had one accident involving a Western-built jet airplane for every 270,000 flights, compared with the worldwide average of one accident per 5 million flights. However, no air carrier in Africa — or anywhere else — that successfully completed an IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) experienced a hull loss accident with a Western-built jet in 2012, he said.
“It is clear that IOSA is making a difference, not just in Africa but in safety globally,” Tyler said, adding that the Abuja Declaration, endorsed by the African Union Summit, outlines a plan for achieving “world-class safety levels” by 2015. One condition of the declaration calls for all African carriers to complete an IOSA audit, and Tyler said African governments should mandate IOSA for their airlines.
European pilots who hold a national pilot license have until April 8, 2014, to convert that license to one issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) issued a reminder in late September, noting that the conversion requirement applies to commercial and private airplane and helicopter pilots with a CAA license — also known as a non–Joint Aviation Requirements license. Those licenses were issued before January 2000.
The CAA said that it was “concerned some pilots would be left with invalid licences if they failed to meet the deadline.”
Some exceptions will be made for pilots of aircraft that are considered “non-EASA aircraft” — for example, ex-military aircraft and some airplanes that are considered “vintage” types. For most pilots, however, “the need to convert national licences by April 2014 is part of the standardisation of pilot licensing across Europe,” the CAA said. The process is expected to be completed by 2017; after that date, all pilots of EASA aircraft must have EASA licenses and EASA medical certificates.
The worldwide expansion of airline fleets and flight schedules will generate a need for 498,000 new commercial airline pilots and 556,000 new maintenance technicians over the next 20 years, Boeing says in its annual Pilot and Technician Outlook.
The hiring estimates, published in September, say that the demand for new employees will reach unprecedented levels because of the expected delivery of tens of thousands of new commercial jetliners.
“Meeting this exponential demand growth will require innovative solutions focused on new digital technology to match the learning requirements of a new generation,” Boeing said.
The largest expected growth in demand will be in the Asia Pacific region, where an estimated 192,300 new pilots and 215,300 new maintenance personnel will be needed between now and 2032, Boeing said.
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has chosen six companies to participate in a program designed to advance composite materials research and certification.
The participants were among 20 firms that submitted research proposals to “reduce the time for development, verification and regulatory acceptance of new composite materials and structures,” NASA said.
The selected companies are Bell Helicopter Textron, GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Boeing Research and Technology, and United Technologies and subsidiary Pratt & Whitney.
NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate is responsible for seeking solutions to air traffic congestion, safety and environmental issues that affect the air transportation system.
In Other News …
The European Aviation Safety Agency and Transport Canada (TC) have agreed to conduct common inspections to ensure that the foreign commercial aircraft that operate within their jurisdictions are in compliance with safety regulations. The two will share information gathered during the inspections in what TC described as “an arrangement to strengthen the safety net around international air travel.” … The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has upgraded Ukraine’s aviation safety rating to Category 1, which designates full compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization standards and recommended practices. Ukraine had been assigned a Category 2 rating since 2005; Category 2 indicates either a lack of laws or regulations for overseeing air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards or a deficiency in the civil aviation authority. The ratings are assigned through the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment Program
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman