European agency, Sikorsky at odds

Rob Antle
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Helicopter company disputes info bulletin

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a non-mandatory safety information bulletin Tuesday concerning Sikorsky S-92A helicopters, but the chopper manufacturer said EASA has misinterpreted two letters the company sent to owners and operators.

"I frankly am puzzled about why EASA put out that (bulletin)," Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson told The Telegram late Tuesday evening.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a non-mandatory safety information bulletin Tuesday concerning Sikorsky S-92A helicopters, but the chopper manufacturer said EASA has misinterpreted two letters the company sent to owners and operators.

"I frankly am puzzled about why EASA put out that (bulletin)," Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson told The Telegram late Tuesday evening.

EASA said Tuesday it was reacting to two separate safety advisories issued by Sikorsky - the first in September 2008 and the second on Saturday, March 14, just two days after Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 ditched and sank in the Atlantic Ocean 55 kilometres east of St. John's.

But Sikorsky officials told The Telegram their two advisories bear no relation to the March 12 accident, which killed 17 of the 18 people on board.

According to EASA, Sikorsky published a safety bulletin in September to inform owners and operators of impending changes to the helicopter's flight manual. Those changes, EASA said, were "prompted by service difficulties with the S-92A MGB lubrication system." The term "MGB" refers to the chopper's main gearbox.

The European agency said it issued Tuesday's bulletin because the procedures specified by Sikorsky last September were not approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S., or by EASA.

But according to Sikorsky, the September letter was just a heads-up about something that could happen down the road.

"Sikorsky's practice is to provide operators with transparency and to supply information as it becomes available," Jackson said. "This bulletin was simply notice of a proposed change, with no directive to comply either then or now pending all required approvals per normal procedures."

Jackson noted that the subsequent March 14 letter was intended to remind S-92A operators of all-service bulletins - documents released by manufacturers about recommended maintenance changes - issued over the previous 90 days.

"It is simply a reminder and not intended, as is stated in the (letter), to suggest any of those bulletins is in any way connected with the recent accident," he said.

Jackson provided a copy of Sikorsky's March 14 letter to The Telegram.

The company stressed in the letter that "no root cause has been determined for the accident."

Transport Canada's initial, preliminary report on last week's crash indicated that the chopper declared a mayday due to a problem with oil pressure in the main gearbox. The helicopter ditched less than 10 minutes later, then sank.

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) are working to determine what happened.

Flight 491's so-called "black box" was recovered and sent to Ottawa Tuesday, while work continued to recover the fuselage of the downed chopper.

Transport Canada spokesman Patrick Charette said the European bulletin was "non-mandatory," and would result in no direct involvement for federal officials in this country.

Charette said Transport Canada tracks official airworthiness directives issued by any certification bodies, such as the FAA.

FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said from Washington that the agency is evaluating the Sikorsky and EASA bulletins.

"We have not yet decided if we will take similar action," Duquette said.

Duquette said the FAA could issue a special airworthiness information bulletin, or SAIB - an advisory that alerts, educates and makes recommendations to the aviation community.

SAIBs are less stringent than airworthiness directives, which are mandatory and require that certain safety issues are addressed.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: European Aviation Safety Agency, The Telegram, Federal Aviation Administration Transport Canada Transportation Safety Board

Geographic location: St. John's, U.S., Ottawa Washington

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Recent comments

  • Oil
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Ask the workers who travel on these aircrafts how many times they had to turn back because of gearbox warnings???

  • Randall
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Just a coincidence? I wonder....

  • oil
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    I agree with the above statement. I've been on one with a warning light and we were just about to head back to St.Johns. We had to get another chopper the next day and that chopper we were supposed to go in on, was lowered down to a boat and went back to town that way
    We may have been in the water 10 minutes later if the light never went off

  • Oil
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Ask the workers who travel on these aircrafts how many times they had to turn back because of gearbox warnings???

  • Randall
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    Just a coincidence? I wonder....

  • oil
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    I agree with the above statement. I've been on one with a warning light and we were just about to head back to St.Johns. We had to get another chopper the next day and that chopper we were supposed to go in on, was lowered down to a boat and went back to town that way
    We may have been in the water 10 minutes later if the light never went off