Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Confidence returning with offshore chopper flights: Hibernia president

Confidence returning with offshore chopper flights: Hibernia presidentCrews heading to Hibernia and other offshore oil fields have had to travel by supply ship since the Cougar chopper crash. (CBC)

The company running the Hibernia offshore oil platform is making a move to resume using helicopters to transport workers, almost two months after a crash that killed 17 people.

Hibernia Management and Development Corp. will host what it calls a town hall meeting on Monday night at the Holiday Inn in St. John's. The meeting will be open only to offshore workers and one family member each.

Helicopter flights to the Hibernia platform, about 315 kilometres southeast of St. John's, and two other platforms were suspended March 12, when a Cougar Helicopters aircraft crashed minutes after encountering mechanical problems. The crash killed all but one of the 18 people who had been aboard.

"I realize this has been a trying period for all of us, but I have confidence in the level of followup completed by the industry after the March 12 helicopter crash," Hibernia president Paul Sacuta said in a letter sent to employees.

Since the crash, workers have been transported to the platforms by supply vessels, a more time-consuming method of moving staff.

Union officials said immediately after the crash that workers were anxious about their safety because of uncertainty about the safety of the helicopters.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which has been investigating the crash, has said it found that a mounting stud from the aircraft's gearbox broke away during flight. The TSB has been careful to say, though, that the revelation does not necessarily prove the cause of the crash, and that its investigation is still underway. A report is expected next year.

In March, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency directive, instructing owners of Sikorsky S-92A helicopters to replace the mounting stud in the gearbox filter bowl.

Cougar has been conducting air tests with its aircraft in the weeks since the crash.

In his letter, Sacuta said Hibernia will hold a series of meetings with employees, including a session aboard the platform itself.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which regulates the province's oil industry, has launched its own investigation into the crash, with a focus on worker safety.

Only one person — Robert Decker, who worked as an ice spotter aboard one of the platforms — survived the March 12 crash. He later said through a statement he was able to escape through one of the helicopter's windows.