By Sarah Byrne
A POST-CRASH emergency buoyancy system developed by an Australian company is finding new ways forward in helicopter safety, One Atmosphere managing director Tim Lyons says.
The company’s Pegasus buoyancy system is designed to keep helicopters close to the surface after a crash or a controlled ditch into water.
The innovation is a response to a number of deaths related to helicopter accidents in the United Kingdom and focuses on emergency scenarios when pilots are unable to conduct a controlled landing and are unable to use the floatation systems fitted to the helicopters.
While automatic floatation systems are starting to come onto the market, according to Mr Lyons, most helicopters sink immediately on impact with the water, an industry problem Pegasus hopes to solve.
In this situation, Pegasus is able to fully inflate in a subsea environment, gain quality buoyancy and keep the aircraft afloat while the pilot and passengers escape.
Mr Lyons said Pegasus automatically activates by itself and floats the helicopter on the surface, it also aims to reduce the weight by “at least half, and in some instances by up to two thirds.”
“There is a massive problem and an industry need which has been highlighted by helicopter water impacts in the North Sea. We are certain that as soon as we achieve airworthiness certification in the next 12 to 18 months, that Pegasus will play a very large part in providing an industry solution,” he said.
Mr Lyons said from his understanding there are no other post-crash systems like Pegasus in the world and there was a need for a rapid inflation system which could inflate against increasing sea pressure.
“It’s all about survivability, by providing additional buoyancy and applying buoyancy in different areas, we are able to float the helicopter in a better orientation to make it easier for people to escape from,” he said.
While the goal was to keep a helicopter afloat indefinitely, Mr Lyons said each crash environment was unique and dynamic. The Pegasus system aims to keep aircraft afloat for a minimum of five minutes to allow people to escape.
The buoyancy system has yet to be put onto any helicopters, but is expected to receive certification to be used in civil and defence aircraft in the next 12 to 18 months.
Speaking with Oil & Gas Australia, Mr Lyons said Pegasus won numerous awards, the most recent being the 2014 WA Innovator of the Year Woodside Oil & Gas Encouragement award which was presented to Mr Lyons in November last year.
Entrenched conservatism in the industry made innovation in oil and gas difficult, Mr Lyons said, meaning that getting certified was a complex and expensive process that made it hard for small players with innovative ideas to enter the market.
Nonetheless, he said One Atmosphere have two other innovations in the pipeline.
The company is working on an advanced lightweight breathing system for helicopters and a buoyancy system to be used within the oil and gas industry as a method of removing the in water weight of objects when they are being lowered onto the sea floor.
Mr Lyons said moving heavy infrastructure in deep water is a problem faced by the oil and gas industry and another version of the buoyancy system aims to solve the problem by removing a vast amount of weight the entire way to the sea floor while the infrastructure is being lowered.
One Atmosphere recently became a member of HeliOffshore, an organisation in the UK which sets out to bring major helicopter operators together to work as a team to make offshore helicopter work safer.