No need for higher risk of scheduled offshore night flights: safety inquiry head

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The retired judge who led an inquiry into offshore helicopter safety says he doesn't support a return to scheduled night flights despite search and rescue improvements.

Robert Wells led the inquiry after the crash off Newfoundland of Cougar Flight 491 killed 17 of 18 people onboard in 2009.

Night flights to offshore oil sites were restricted in February 2010 after operators were ordered to improve emergency response times and equipment.

Wells says the industry is now light years ahead of where it was with the addition of two search and rescue helicopters that can be off the ground in 20 minutes.

But as oil companies call for a return to scheduled night flights for operational flexibility, Wells says he doesn't think they're needed.

He says a committee representing the regulator, oil operators, workers and the helicopter operator should decide in special cases whether to fly after dark.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is considering whether to allow night flights, which oil companies say would be occasional and mandatory.

Wells recommended in his 2010 report that workers should have the right to refuse to fly at night without penalty.

Organizations: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

Geographic location: ST. JOHN'S

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