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Government reject inquiry into offshore helicopter safety

The wreckage of the Super Puma L2 helicopter which went down in the North Sea. Credit: PA

The Government has rejected calls for a public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety after a series of crashes.

It follows the death of four people, including one man from County Durham, oil worker Duncan Munroe who had been returning to Shetland from a platform in the North Sea.

The House of Commons Transport Committee recommended a "full and independent" inquiry earlier this year after four people died in a Super Puma crash near Sumburgh airport in Shetland in August 2013.

It was the fifth helicopter accident involving the transfer of oil and gas industry personnel in the North Sea since 2009.

The Government has now responded to the report and said it "does not support" the call for a public inquiry:

It is true that competition for contracts, particularly where contracts are offered at short notice or awarded at a lower price, may impact on the ability of the operator to recruit and train for a new commitment but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.

The committee's report stated that helicopter operators do not support the accusation that commercial pressure from their customers affects the safety of their operations and hotly dispute the suggestion made by Balpa (the British Airline Pilots Association).

– The Government

Louise Ellman, Chair of the committee, said she is deeply disappointed that ministers have rejected their recommendation to hold an independent inquiry to investigate offshore helicopter safety:

This is a regrettable decision for the loved ones and relatives of people killed in offshore helicopter accidents. It sends the wrong signal to people who continue to work in the offshore industry.

– Louise Ellman

The Transport Committee said it had been told by some in the industry that offshore workers who raise concerns about helicopter safety have been told they should leave the oil and gas industry and that there was a "macho bullying culture".

But Malcolm Webb, Chief Executive of Oil & Gas UK believes the report of a single, three word quote isn't sufficient to support the claim:

The fact that the quote was made is hugely regrettable but it is in no way reflective of the industry position regarding safety.

– Malcolm Webb

Mr Webb added that he did not support the calls for a public inquiry describing it as a "distraction" for the work of implementing the Civil Aviation Authority's recommendations, which include:

  • Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions to improve the chances of rescue and survival,
  • Providing passengers with better emergency breathing systems,
  • Modifications to helicopters and survival equipment and
  • Changes to the way pilots are trained.

Mick Cash, general secretary of offshore union RMT says they "will continue to fight for a public inquiry and will continue to support the families of those who have lost loved-ones in our industry".

Power lines checks - low flying helicopters

Low flying helicopters will check power lines across the North East Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

More than 2000km of power lines are being checked in the region from today.

Low flying helicopters will view north of the River Tees as well as west of the A1 in Yorkshire.

Farmers and landowners are being warned in case the inspections affect livestock in fields where power lines cross.

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Sir Alan Beith MP: "We will lose out from not having them on our doorstep"

Search and rescue helicopters, including Sea Kings operating out of RAF Boulmer in Northumberland, are set to be replaced by a new fleet operated by an American company.

Under the new contract operations will end at RAF Boulmer and 22 new state-of-the-art helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK.

Bristow, the American company who won the contract, say that the new fleet will be more advanced than the Sea King.

However, the MP for Berwick - Sir Alan Beith - told ITV News that the move will be sad for the community.

Bristow Group takes over UK search and rescue from RAF

A search and rescue helicopter based at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland Credit: RAF

A private company is taking over the UK's helicopter search and rescue operations.

The Department for Transport announced the 10 year agreement with Bristow Group will start in 2015.

The £1.6 billion deal ends 70 years of search and rescue from the RAF and Royal Navy.

Under the new contract, 22 helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK, including RAF Boulmer in Northumberland.

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New rescue helicopters 'will reach larger area of UK'

The Department for Transport has said that under the new contract helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK Search and Rescue region within an hour of take-off than is currently possible.

An RAF Sea King helicopter that will no longer be used under the new contract. Credit: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

It added that, based on historic incident data, it is estimated there will be an overall improvement in flying times to incidents of around 20 percent (from 23 to 19 minutes).

Presently, approximately 70 percent of high and very high-risk areas within the UK SAR region are reachable by helicopter within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85 percent of the same area would be reached within this time frame.

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Jail for flying instructor

A flying instructor whose student died in a helicopter crash in North Yorkshire has been jailed for six months by a judge at Leeds Crown Court. Former Army Captain Ian King, aged 53, signed off Paul Spencer's training log just weeks before the tragedy.

He was found guilty of lying to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Jailed for six months - Ian King Credit: Calendar news

Mr Spencer, a wealthy businessman and his wife, Linda, from Brighouse, died when the helicopter he was piloting came down in Rudding Park at Harrogate in January 2008.

Paul and Linda Spencer Credit: Calendar news

The court heard how Mr Spencer's flying experience fell below what was required for a licence. Judge Tom Bayliss QC told King his actions risked putting an inexperienced pilt at the controls of a helicopter.

wreckage of the helicopter Credit: Calendar news