Airbus Helicopter Crashes Spur U.K. to Demand Upgrades

Crashes involving Airbus Group NV helicopters used for North Sea oil operations have led a U.K. regulator to demand upgrades to new and existing models, with flights in “the most severe conditions” barred outright.

Design requirements for helicopters used in offshore services will be strengthened, the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority said in 293-page safety review. The review was spurred by 25 offshore crashes since 1992, including two high-profile accidents in 2012 involving Airbus EC225 models.

With demand from other sectors weak since the recession, the oil and gas industry has become the backbone of global commercial helicopter sales for manufacturers including Airbus, Finmeccanica SpA’s AgustaWestland unit and United Technology Corp.’s Sikorsky brand. Fatalities occurred in seven of the North Sea crashes in the period, the CAA said in a statement.

“The steps we are announcing today will result in significant improvements in safety for those flying to and from offshore sites in the U.K. and potentially worldwide,” CAA Chairwoman Deirdre Hutton said. “The safety of those who rely on offshore helicopter flights is our absolute priority.”

Helicopters should be equipped with flotation gear to give rescue teams more time to save those onboard, with improvements to life-jackets and rafts, the CAA said. Workers using flights to oil platforms should get better training, it said.

As an interim measure, helicopter capacity will be limited from June to ensure each passenger is next to an emergency exit unless the model has flotation or emergency breathing equipment.

The review is supported by the Norwegian civil aviation authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency, with other experts also involved, the CAA said. The regulator said it will set up a safety forum to assure recommendations are implemented.