Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Saturday, 11 April 2009 17:15 UK

Call for grounding of helicopters

Super Puma wreck arrives in Aberdeen

Union leaders have called for North Sea Super Puma helicopters to be grounded after 16 people died in an offshore crash at the start of April.

Air accident investigators found the crash had been caused by "catastrophic" gearbox failure and recommended an improved regime of safety checks.

The RMT union wants the aircraft grounded until fully declared safe.

Oil and Gas UK, which represents the North Sea industry, said an initial series of inspections had taken place.

The British Airline Pilots Association said there were also wider issues of commercial pressures affecting safety.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch's initial report recommended that "additional inspections" be carried out on other Super Puma helicopters to ensure the airworthiness of the gearboxes after the crash on 1 April.

The investigation found that the gearbox had suffered a "major failure", which was not yet fully understood, leading the main rotor head to break off and hit the helicopter.

Our position is pretty clear, they should be grounded
Bob Crow

The report said the aircraft's manufacturer, Eurocopter, should carry out "additional inspections and enhanced monitoring" on its AS332 L2 models of Super Puma helicopters.

It also recommended that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) evaluate these checks and, when satisfied, makes them compulsory.

On Saturday, the EASA mandated the AAIB recommendations by requiring that all operators of the L2 and EC 225 variants of the Super Puma to carry out daily inspections of the main gearbox magnetic plug.

Should any contamination be found during these inspections, the gearbox assembly is to be removed from the aircraft, and replaced and tested before further flight.

General secretary of the RMT union, Bob Crow, said he wanted all similar Super Puma's grounded until they could be declared fully safe.

He said: "Our position is pretty clear, they should be grounded for a full inspection to take place before our members are absolutely satisfied that those Super Pumas are OK to fly."

He added: "As far as we're concerned we're saying to our members 'if you don't feel safe about going into those Puma helicopters then they should refuse to work on the grounds of health and safety'."

Chris Allen, health and safety director of Oil and Gas UK said: "Oil and Gas UK can confirm that helicopter companies operating flights to UK offshore installations today have carried out the additional checks that were required in the alert service bulletin issued by the manufacturer, Eurocopter, last night."

Super Puma
Four-bladed helicopter used primarily by offshore oil firms
Capacity: Up to 25 passengers
Crew: 2
Max. speed: 278 km/h (172.7mph)
Range: 776 km (482 miles)

He added: "The industry is committed to implementing all the recommendations which have so far been made by the AAIB and any others which emerge from the continuing investigation."

The service bulletin requires daily checks to be carried out on the Super Puma L2 and EC 225 to verify the condition of the main gearbox.

Meanwhile, British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) general secretary Jim McAuslan said he wanted the investigation into the crash to look at wider issues about safety within the industry.

He said: "I think what I'm saying, without evidence, but just checking the vibration checks within the industry at present, is that people are saying something is giving here.

"Something is giving. The commercial pressures are making safety give a bit. And that's the question, I think, that we need to ask."

The 14 passengers and two crew who died were returning from BP's Miller platform when the helicopter crashed in the sea, 14 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire.

The bodies of the victims have all been recovered and identified. Eight of the victims came from the north east of Scotland, seven from the rest of the UK, and one from Latvia.

A memorial service for those who died is to be held on Wednesday in Aberdeen.

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