Construction of a new search and rescue facility at St. John’s airport for the offshore oil industry won’t meet a year-end deadline.
The dedicated search and rescue (SAR) helicopter is in place, but its hangar and crew quarters are still on the drawing board.
And that means it will take longer to achieve the 15- to
20-minute response time recommended by helicopter safety inquiry commissioner Robert Wells when he issued an interim report in February.
Since March, Suncor Energy said the SAR response time has been reduced from the previous one hour to 30 minutes.
“The objective is to get it as low as we can reasonably,” said John Downton, spokesman for Suncor, which operates the Terra Nova oilfield.
“In order to do that, there are a number of pieces of infrastructure that need to be put in place.
“A key piece of it is a hangar facility.
“Cougar, we understand, is working with the various authorities to enable that to happen, but it’s taking some time, and it will take some time to get all the elements in place as we understand it.”
Cougar Helicopters provides first-response search and rescue services to the province’s offshore oil industry.
Response time is how long it takes to get a search and rescue helicopter in the air.
These days, the SAR duties are carried out by a dedicated S-92 chopper that arrived in the province in July.
“We received confirmation that it’s now in full-time dedicated service as of the second week of November,” said Downton.
The SAR chopper is due for an upgrade to its flotation system in the new year.
All passenger helicopters have already received this upgrade.
Floats provide additional stability following a controlled ditching in the water.
The SAR helicopter has also been equipped with auto-hover technology and forward-looking infrared radar.
But the auto-hover — which aids in night rescues — has yet to be activated because it’s still awaiting certification from Transport Canada.
Before that can happen, the technology must first be certified by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the U.S., where the helicopter manufacturer is based.
“The FAA is working with Sikorsky towards the approval as it pertains to the U.S. type certificate,” said an emailed statement from Transport Canada.
“Transport Canada is conducting a concurrent validation of the U.S. approval. Transport Canada will continue to work with the FAA and Sikorsky to support a Canadian approval.
“Once U.S. approval is obtained, it is anticipated that Canadian approval could follow within approximately one month.”
In February, Wells recommended a ban on night flights offshore —at least until a dedicated SAR helicopter was outfitted with auto-hover and forward-looking infrared radar.
He reiterated that ban in his report issued Wednesday — saying he could not recommend “a return to scheduled night flying.”
If night flights are necessary, he recommended decisions to fly be made unanimously by a committee that includes worker representatives.