By Andrew Hobbs
COLLABORATION across industry is key to establishing a global set of best practice standards for offshore helicopter operators, say the companies behind a new organisation dedicated to doing just that.
Known as HeliOffshore, the group springs from the UK Joint Operators Review led by Avincis Group (now Babcock Mission Critical Services), Bristow Group and CHC Helicopter, which started in 2013.
The group is now joined by Gulf of Mexico-focused Era Helicopters and Petroleum Helicopters International, as well as the European Helicopter Operators Committee (EHOC), which voted to disband and join HeliOffshore in October last year.
Today, the group is led by chief executive Gretchen Haskins, formerly the group director of safety at the UK Civil Aviation Authority and previously at National Air Traffic Services (UK).
Speaking with Oil & Gas Australia in November, Mrs Haskins said the group had combined EHOC’s research with the findings of the review to focus on six new workstreams – with oil and gas industry-relevant topics among them.
Among them was finding a way to ensuring passengers have the best chance of surviving in the case of an aircraft being forced to ditch at sea.
“That includes making sure the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) best practices are shared – that’s basically the training that passengers undergo to make sure they can escape in the event of a ditching – and what we are trying to make sure of is that the best practice for that training is shared around the world,” she said.
“There is some work being done on passenger size, which is very controversial, but making sure that everybody who is in the aircraft can get out physically and that the design of the doors and the windows are compatible with the size of people carried.”
HeliOffshore was also looking at the different audits that were conducted on helicopters by the companies for which they worked, with Mrs Haskins saying the industry could use them more effectively.
“It is almost as if audits are a backward looking tool – prove to me that you have been safe and give me evidence of that,” she said.
“I would like to see us having a more forward looking conversation that is looking at: What are the top safety priorities? What are the future plans to further improve in those areas, and what is the evidence we should all be looking at to prove that the risk avoidance plans we all have in place are having the right effect on the frontline?”
Ms Haskins said the essence of safety management systems was determining what risks existed, how those risks could be managed and then determining whether that strategy was effective.
“What we are trying to do is have a conversation, almost worldwide, and where we have got common risks, we’re hoping we can share best practices and have common actions,” she said.
HeliOffshore also covers matters relating to automation, information exchange and monitoring of operational performance, f light paths and health and usage –incorporating work done by EHOC and encouraging additional advice from members.
Concurrent with the work streams, analysis of large amounts of data drawn from health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS), f light management systems and line-orientated safety audits will also form a central part of the work.
“The big conversation we want to have with anyone who is a member is: what are the top priorities for us to work on? What are the actions that will make the greatest difference? Who is already working on this, because we don’t want to re-invent the wheel,” Mrs Haskins said.
HeliOffshore is currently working with helicopter manufacturers to try to established clearer procedures in some areas – with the aim of establishing a broader set of practices.
“There are some cases where the oil companies are asking us to apply different standards.” Mrs Haskins said.
While national and international safety regulators were also looking at these issues, Mrs Haskins said regional differentiation in safety standards was limited.
“There are different local priorities and local areas of focus, but when you get down to safety fundamentals, there is not much difference, which gives me hope for working together,” she said.
Since its launch in October 2014, HeliOffshore has received over 70 applications for membership including from operators, manufactures and oil and gas companies from around the world.
A prime example of that collaboration will take place at HeliOffshore’s first conference and annual general meeting, which is to take place between 8 and 11 May in Lisbon.
The conference will be an opportunity for HeliOffshore members and senior stakeholders to take part in an interactive discussion on how to best move forward with that collaboration.
“We aim to address the benefits and practicalities of working together, gain alignment on the key priorities and deliverables for the coming year, and to further build working relationships across the offshore helicopter transport community,” she said.
Applications to register for the conference are still open, and Mrs Haskins told Oil & Gas Australia in November that the event had already attracted significant interest.
“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by just how supportive everyone’s been and how much interest there is. I’ve been trying to figure out why and I think it is just because it makes sense,” she said.
“Everybody goes – oh, this is helpful, now we have someone to talk to about this, and I can help liaise with all the helicopter companies, and we can get one voice, so people don’t have to go to 25 companies to get a view on something, which is wonderful.”
“I just think it will make us more efficient and more effective,” she said.