Retrofit of helicopter gearbox not necessary: FAA

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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A Cougar Helicopter Sikorsky S-92A. — Telegram file photo

HALIFAX — The U.S. aviation regulator says it won’t require the retrofit of a gearbox blamed in a fatal helicopter crash off Newfoundland because it would be too expensive for the industry.

The decision by the Federal Aviation Administration rejects a call by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to phase-in a requirement that all Sikorsky S-92A gearboxes be capable of operating at least 30 minutes after losing oil.

The March 2009 crash of Cougar Flight 491 resulted in 17 deaths during a flight to an offshore oil platform, and has brought demands from the families of the victims that regulators in the United States, Canada and Europe change the rules governing the gearbox.

The FAA memo on the decision, obtained by The Canadian Press under U.S. freedom of information legislation, says the service record of the helicopter no longer supports the certification’s basic premise that the chances of an oil leak are “extremely remote.”

It also says a rule change for gearboxes will be proposed for future aircraft.

However, it says the helicopter has a good record and modifying the existing gearboxes would have a significant economic impact on the aviation industry and the cost would outweigh any improvements in safety.

The Transportation Safety Board found the primary cause of the crash in the North Atlantic was a massive loss of oil to the chopper’s main gearbox after two of three titanium studs snapped off the oil filter assembly during flight.

Organizations: Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Safety Board of Canada, Cougar Flight 491 Canadian Press

Geographic location: United States, Newfoundland, Canada Europe North Atlantic

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  • Aimee
    July 20, 2011 - 09:31

    Maybe we should put them in a s-97 and tell them that we dont know if tere is oil in the gearbox or not, then send them on a flight. See how quickly their decisions change then. A human life is worth more than all the money in the world. This decision is baulderdash!

  • sg
    July 19, 2011 - 22:53

    WOW, no changes due to cost! Ask 491 families about cost, what an absurd statement. However, if a directive has been issued to all civilian S92 users that the advertised run dry capabilities are not achievable and are not to be relied upon, then some good will come to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy. Sikorsky should be, and is assuredly, ashamed of thier misrepresentation of the S92 capabilities. Continued condolences to the families of those lost needlessly , you are an inspiration to protect those I work with everyday. S

  • Kay
    July 19, 2011 - 20:33

    How is human life not worth the cost???

  • David
    July 19, 2011 - 17:56

    If the crash happened in the U.S, a different story with a differnet ruling entirely.

  • Rig Worker
    July 19, 2011 - 15:52

    Well....surprise surprise! I mean really the "remote chances" of another crash are slim right? Ahhh the law of averages.....3 to 4 hours per flight depending on the destination offshore, 5 flights per day, using 3 helicopters approx 260 days of the year. Okay, I like the odds, but really...I don't want to see anymore friend & coworkers killed. Wives without husbands, husbands without wives, parents losing children, and children losing parents....families devastated. And for what? Trying to make a living and provide the best for your family. I've been in this industry a long time and the one thing I've learned and 100% sure of is this...its all about the bottom line. Money Money Money. Plain and simple greed. Do it as cheap as you can no matter the risk to people or the environment. Well today I've learned something else...my life has a price tag on it according to the FAA and I'm sure the helicopter mfg's helicopter operators and the companies we work for feel the same way. Too bad I don't see it the same way!

  • Fintip
    July 19, 2011 - 14:00

    There appear to be more civilian S-92s in operation in Canada than in the United States and yet Transport Canada continues to defer to FAA regulations governing the fitness for purpose of these machines even over harsh open waters. If the Telegram and other media are doing their job, they will immediately approach Transport Canada to ascertain whether Canada is prepared to enforce a standard for this aircraft different from the U.S. or, alternatively, to amend its certification restricting it to overland use only. Remember it was a recommendation of the Transport Safety Board of Canada that the FAA be asked not only to insist on a run-dry capability but that the run-dry time be extended from the original 30 minute minimum. Failing any action by Transport Canada, and given that the Government of Canada has yet to act on Justice Wells' recommendaton for a stand-alone offshore safety board, it will then fall to Mr. Ruelokke and the CNLOPB to decide whether it should set a deadline for the replacement of the S-92 with a machine the capabilities of which are commensurate with the environment in which it must operate. Until then, the Board must continue restricting the aircraft's use to sea states that permit safe ditching and evacuation. The decision of the FAA also raises the question of whether the version of the S-92 now on order by Canada's military for search and rescue and other uses (known as the CH-148) will be held to a more demanding run-dry capability.

  • Crnerboy
    July 19, 2011 - 13:06

    I hope they have deep pockets for all future lawsuits that result in this decision.