Offshore helicopter safety measures announced by CAA
A series of measures aimed at improving offshore helicopter safety have been announced by aviation regulators.
An inquiry was set up by the Civil Aviation Authority and its Norwegian and European counterparts in the wake of a fatal Super Puma crash last year.
Helicopters will not be allowed to fly offshore in severe sea conditions.
The CAA has announced that passengers will have to be seated next to emergency exits, and there will be a size limit for those on board.
This measure is aimed at making it easier for those on board to get out of a helicopter in an emergency.
The restriction will apply unless helicopters are fitted with extra flotation devices or passengers are provided with better emergency breathing systems.
Flights will be prohibited in the most severe sea conditions so that the chance of a ditched helicopter capsizing is reduced and a rescue can be safely undertaken.
From April 2015 anyone flying offshore will have to meet with size requirements, although these have not yet been specified.
There will also be changes to the way pilots are trained and checked.
The Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) is expected to improve survival training for offshore workers.
CAA chairwoman Dame Deirdre Hutton said: "The safety of those who rely on offshore helicopter flights is our absolute priority.
"The steps we are announcing today will result in significant improvements in safety for those flying to and from offshore sites in the UK and potentially worldwide.
"We expect helicopter operators, the oil and gas industry and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) to move forward with recommendations to them as soon as possible.
"For our part, the CAA is already taking forward actions directly under our control.
"We will monitor and report regularly on progress, so that people can have confidence that these important changes are being implemented as quickly as possible."
Jim McAuslan, general Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), said: "The hundreds of dedicated helicopter pilots flying in support of Britain's oil and gas industry and ferrying people to offshore rigs welcome these proposals, which will help them make every single flight a safe flight.
"Pilots will work with the CAA and operators to improve helicopter safety in the North Sea and ensure there is no backsliding as memories of recent accidents fade."
Bond Offshore Helicopters said: "This is another significant development in the process to enhance safety across the industry.
"We will carefully study the report's recommendations, and will seek to discuss them further with our customers.
"The report highlights a number of important areas such as training, cabin configuration, safety equipment and weather conditions.
"Everyone at Bond Offshore Helicopters, from hangar to cockpit to office, is committed to delivering the dependable, reliable service that last year carried over 150,000 people safely offshore and home again."
A CHC Helicopter spokeswoman said: "Our commitment remains to provide the safest possible helicopter service to our customers.
"We welcome the actions and recommendations in the CAA's report."
And Bristow Helicopters said: "We always support initiatives which enhance the safety of offshore oil and gas operations."
Industry body Oil and Gas UK's health, safety and employment issues director Robert Paterson said: "This comprehensive analysis of North Sea helicopter operations and safety performance proposes a series of actions and makes a number of important recommendations for the industry.
"The focus is now on managing the changes arising from the report in a considered and systematic way."
Jake Molloy, of the RMT union, said: "We welcome the recommendations, but it's vital that we sit down with the industry and discuss the practicalities of how these recommendations will be implemented."
Four people died last August when the CHC-operated Super Puma AS332 L2 helicopter crashed off Shetland.
Those who lost there lives were Sarah Darnley, 45, of Elgin; Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness; Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland; and George Allison, 57, from Winchester.
It was the fifth serious incident involving an offshore helicopter in the UK sector since 2009.