Strike threat over return of ‘flying coffin’

Strike threat over return of ‘flying coffin’

Workers say they have no confidence in Super Puma helicopter after deaths of more than 30 people in offshore crashes

A Super Puma EC225 crashed in 2016 killing 13 people
A Super Puma EC225 crashed in 2016 killing 13 peopleTORSTEIN BOE/EPA

Tens of thousands of offshore workers in Scotland will be urged to strike if a helicopter involved in a spate of accidents returns to service.

Pat Rafferty, the Scottish head of Unite, the union, has threatened to ballot members if the Super Puma, an aircraft once routinely used to ferry workers to North Sea rigs, is reintroduced.

The helicopter was grounded across Europe last year in the wake of a crash in Norway but restrictions were lifted in July by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Amid concern that UK helicopter operators could bring back the aircraft, MSPs will debate the issue this week in the Scottish parliament. Rafferty is urging politicians to back Unite’s call for the Super Puma to be grounded indefinitely and said moves to return the aircraft to offshore duties would be strongly opposed.

“People view this aircraft as a flying coffin,” said Rafferty. “We’re absolutely prepared to take industrial action if there are any moves to reintroduce the aircraft and we’re confident that the majority of our members, not to mention the public, would be hugely supportive.”

A recent survey by Airbus, which produces the Super Puma, suggested more than 60% of offshore workers would not feel comfortable travelling in the helicopter. Since 2009, it has been involved in several crashes and more than 30 offshore workers have been killed.

In April 2016, 13 people died after a Super Puma EC225 crashed west of the Norwegian city of Bergen. Among those killed was Iain Stuart, an oil worker from Laurencekirk in Aberdeenshire.

Iain Stuart was among those killed in the crash west of the Norwegian city of Bergen
Iain Stuart was among those killed in the crash west of the Norwegian city of BergenPOLICE SCOTLAND/PA WIRE

Witnesses described seeing “huge flames” and “black smoke” after the helicopter plunged an estimated 2,100ft in 10 seconds. It had been en route from Statoil’s Gullfaks B platform when it crashed closed to Flesland airport.

In 2012, EC225 Super Puma helicopters crashed in two incidents in Scotland, one off Aberdeen and the other off Shetland. Both crashes, which did not result in fatalities, were blamed on gearbox problems. In 2009, All 14 passengers and two crew died when a Super Puma came down in the North Sea, close to Peterhead on the east coast of Scotland. In 2015, the Super Puma EC225 was rebranded under Airbus as model H225.

“Thirty-three families in Scotland have lost loved ones who stepped on board a Super Puma helicopter,” said Rafferty. “Our members have made it absolutely clear that they have lost confidence in the aircraft. That confidence is not going to return, ever.”

The CAA said lifting of restrictions on the Super Puma followed modifications by Airbus. Operators are also required to carry out rigorous checks and to replace parts more frequently. “We would never have lifted the restrictions unless we were convinced that the changes meant that the required standards were now being met.”

Airbus Helicopters said: “We welcome any open and informed discussion on the safety of offshore helicopters and this is clearly a topic of great importance to MSPs.

“While global and national independent authorities have lifted all H225 flight restrictions based on new safety measures, which go beyond regulators’ requirements, Airbus Helicopters understands the importance of restoring confidence in the aircraft ahead of any return to service. We are now in the process of informing the workforce and wider community of the updates.”



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1 comment
Peter Wright 

I flew in these machines in the 1980s and even then they were problematic. One crashed on final approach to Aberdeen Airport when a cargo hatch separated and disabled the tail rotor. There were few serious injuries but the passengers turned up for their next offshore flight wearing teeshirts emblazoned “North West Hutton Freefall Catering Team.”

I recall another landing on a ship in the North Sea following tail rotor failure and several other fatal incidents. Since then there is a regular catalogue of serious incidents. This is not a good machine.

After the Chinook crash in 1986 with 41 fatalities, Robert Maxwell, then owner of British International Helicopters, boarded and flew in one of the modified designs to prove how safe and reliable they were. Despite wishes and feelings on the ground the aircraft, (an awful machine to fly in,) returned safely but he had in effect sealed its fate as a passenger carrier.


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Keep the North Sea Puma Free




  1. Fill out a Safety First freepost postcard and return it to Unite Offshore, who will then ensure it gets to your elected representative. Click here for a downloadable/printable freepost postcard
  2. If you have not already signed the Back Home Safe 2017 petition do so today
  3. Get Involved, Get Protected: Join Unite Today.
  4. Join Unite Offshore to lobby the Scottish Parliament on the evening of 24th October 2017.

 Energy Voice – Poll results: Would you fly in a H225? – Keep the North Sea Puma Free

 Energy Voice – Poll results: Would you fly in a H225?

Written by  – 

Guillaume Faury, chief executive of Airbus Helicopters travels on the H225

More than 50% of Energy Voice readers do not want to fly in a controversial offshore helicopter, according to a poll.

The survey was launched last week and received more than 3,100 responses.

A total of 39% of the votes said they would fly in an Airbus H225 aircraft, with 52% saying they would not.

Around 2% of the voters said they would consider it but would want more information on safety upgrades while 7% voted that they were happy with the alternative or replacement airframes.

The helicopters were recently cleared to return to service, dependent on a safety case, after a lengthy grounding that followed a fatal crash off Norway.

The boss of manufacturer Airbus has been challenged to fly in the same conditions as the workforce in the most recent development to a long standing wrangle over the aircraft reintroduction. Read more here.

Thanks to everyone who took part in the poll.



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Please, Sir Can I have some more?


Dickensian practices from Oil major and catering contractor

please sir

Oil supermajor BP has defended its offshore catering offering amid claims that oil workers are being denied snacks between meals.

It comes after allegations that the food galley offshore was being cordoned off between meal times.

One rig worker, who wants to remain anonymous, said light bites such as bread, fruit, cakes and ice cream are getting locked away after meal times as part of a change of policy. The worker highlighted safety concerns.

The removal of black pudding from the breakfast menu also provoked complaints from some of the workforce.

However energy giant BP said some food items cannot be left lying out in order to comply with food standards.

And the company said that it offers “extensive” catering options. The oil major has also reinstated black pudding as a breakfast option.

The source said: “It sounds a bit trivial but it means a lot to people out here.

“All bread, fruit, cakes and ice cream were removed and stored away to stop people from having a snack if they were hungry.

“There were barriers put in place to stop people entering the galley and just recently someone was reprimanded for entering the galley out with meal times.

“It basically means we can’t get any form of food out with these times and when you are working for a three-week, sometimes four-week, period offshore you can become quite hungry due to the nature of our jobs.

“Some guys on the drilling side work a split shift to allow them to change from night shift to day shift. This entails working eight hour shifts which means they finish a shift at 10.30pm and can’t get anything to eat until 11.30pm which is when they should be in bed catching up on sleep.”

But BP say that the only time offshore catering facilities may be cordoned off is to allow for cleaning and food preparation.

A BP spokeswoman added: “It’s important to us that everyone working on our offshore assets is well looked after – for many, offshore can be home for half of the year.

“That’s exactly why we provide the very extensive catering choices that we do, which includes a varied breakfast menu and a choice of starters, three main meals options and a dessert for lunch and dinner.

“And we respond to feedback – the new catering contract we recently introduced to all our North Sea offshore assets brought back items that our teams told us they particularly wanted, including specific ice-cream brands, branded condiments and black pudding.

“We also secured confectionery items, which offshore colleagues can buy, at cost price rates.

“Food is available at four different times throughout the day – breakfast, lunch, dinner and also at midnight for the night shift crews. Between these times, some of our restaurants may be cordoned off to give the catering teams enough time clean and to prepare food for the next service.”

If you have issues  with  access  to food around your working practices offshore or your favourites  taken off the menu  get in touch with Unite and  campaign for the  oil companies and  contractors to put the workers before profit   access to food  which is  required to sustain workers  who are working in a high risk and hazard sector  working long shifts and  rotas.

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Lobby the Scottish Parliament Offshore Helicopter safety debate : Tuesday 24 October

downloasp fc


Hi All

Can you please let me know  if  you will be able to attend the Scottish Parliament  to lobby MSPs  on helicopter safety offshore debate:   Lewis MacDonalds Labour MSPs motion will be debated

If you are a Unite member and interested in attending on Tuesday 24 of October, please get in touch (contact details below)

Information on the motion

Motion S5M-07724: Lewis Macdonald, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 18/09/2017
Workforce Concerns Regarding Helicopter Safety in the North Sea
That the Parliament understands that the Civil Aviation Authority has lifted the ban on the use of Superpuma H225LP and AS332L2 helicopters in the UK despite continuing concerns over the safety of these helicopters among offshore workers; further understands that Airbus, the manufacturer of Superpuma helicopters, has carried out a survey of North Sea workers and aircrew in order to establish their attitudes towards helicopter safety; notes the finding that 62% of respondents would be unlikely to fly in a Superpuma helicopter, given a choice; further notes that 44% of respondents were unaware of work done to improve safety since the Superpuma crash in April 2016, including increased monitoring and inspection measures and more regular replacement of gearbox components; recognises that Unite the Union has launched a petition opposing the reintroduction of the Superpuma helicopters, signed by thousands of offshore workers in the North East Scotland parliamentary region and across the country, who remain concerned about their safety and reputation, and notes calls for flights in these Superpuma helicopters to not resume.
Supported by: Iain Gray, Mark Griffin, Tavish Scott, Colin Beattie, Maree Todd, Fulton MacGregor, Elaine Smith, Rhoda Grant, Neil Findlay, Graeme Dey, Daniel Johnson, Mairi Gougeon, Stuart McMillan, Richard Leonard, Bill Kidd, Clare Haughey, Kenneth Gibson, Liam McArthur, Richard Lochhead, Claire Baker, Richard Lyle, Monica Lennon, John Finnie

Current Status: Achieved Cross Party Support

Information on Unites Back Home Safe Campaign 2017




Can you please pass on – as appropriate to your contacts

For more information on attending the Scottish Parliament


Unite Offshore team

Unite Organiser Billy Donohoe
07919 880 850

Aberdeen Regional Officers

01224 645 271



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An NHV operated Airbus H175 Chopper taken ashore on a ship after warning light appears


nhv h175 ff.jpg yy



 by  – 

An NHV operated H175 helicopter.

A stricken Airbus H175 helicopter had to be taken ashore aboard a ship after a cockpit warning light appeared while the aircraft was on an oil rig.

Only a small number of H175s are in service in the UK North Sea. NHV has three at its base in Aberdeen, while CHC Helicopter took delivery of its first H175 for use in offshore oil operations in August.

A spokesman for Belgian operator NHV said the warning light incident took place last week.

He said the light came on when the aircraft was on a rig in Danish waters, and not during flight.

A ship was used after it became clear that the H175 could not safely fly all the way back to its base.

The aircraft did manage to fly the short distance between the rig and the ship, before being transported back to the Danish coast.

Once near the shore, it made a short flight to Esbjerg airport, where it is undergoing scheduled maintenance.

An industry source based in Denmark told Energy Voice that the aircraft had suffered gearbox problems.

NHV and Airbus said a root cause had yet to be found.

A spokesman for Airbus said the aircraft would not return to action without undergoing a full set of checks.

He said: “An NHV H175‎ experienced a cockpit warning on the deck of an offshore rig in the North Sea.

“With full support from Airbus Helicopters the aircraft was cleared for two short ferry flights, from the rig to a transport ship and, on the ship’s arrival at the coast, a short flight on to land.

“The flights, which totalled less than 10 minutes, remained at all times within the safe flight period following one of these alerts.

“The aircraft will undergo a full technical inspection ahead of any return to flight.”


Unite  Back Home Safe 2017 Campaign  – Helicopter Safety Offshore



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Building Unite

Organising in Scotland’s heliports

Bob Wylie,  September 2017

Unite’s organisers encouraging sign-up to Unite in heliports. Find out more in the video below: