The presentation of an update yesterday on the Norwegian investigation of April’s EC225 accident brings us closer to the issue being one that puts the onus on Airbus rather than CHC – see earlier article.
If, and we stress it is still conditional, the final report continues in the same way, then Airbus Helicopters have a very difficult task ahead of them to restore confidence in the AS332L2 Super Puma and the H225 which was developed from it. In fact, it’s fair to say the whole of the AS332 range is implicated. While customers (such as oil companies) are likely to understand the differences between sub-types, the general public (such as oil company workers and subcontractors) and the non-aviation media will not appreciate this. Our article “Who should we blame when an aircraft crashes” explains this situation further.
While a number of the earlier helicopters on this production line from the 1980s are now retired in their own right, a total of almost 1,000 have been built on the AS332/H225 line and sold widely. A loss of confidence by customers – of which oil and gas customers feature heavily, together with their employees and subcontractors they fly offshore – would mean that the future of the AS332 and H225 is not in that marketplace. Military operators around the world fly around 60% of the number produced from that production line, and with some countries already grounding their fleets (either temporarily or longer-term), it is increasingly likely that others could follow suit.
EASA has grounded the AS332L2 and EC225, a total of 76 helicopters affected. They have not grounded the AS332L or AS332L1, which accounts for a further 53 helicopters across Europe, including 18 operated by the Bundespolizei in Germany, 8 already in storage with CHC, and another 8 with Airbus subsidiary Vector Aerospace.
It should also be remembered that no OEM designs a helicopter to fail. No manufacturer is exempt from problems, and the process of aircraft certification and the various related directives and bulletins are designed to minimise issues and respond to them promptly. Indeed, a grounding order by a certification agency is at least partly about a failure by that agency to identify a potential issue during their process, as much as it is something that has developed through the operational and maintenance life of the aircraft concerned.
Going forward, we expect to see more varied fleets across the world as the risks are too high to “put all your eggs in one basket”. Larger contracts will increasingly have a multiple-type requirement as we see on the UK SAR contract, where the winning bid included eleven of each of two helicopter types.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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