Request to be filed for change on night flight ban
Oil companies active offshore Newfoundland and Labrador are looking for a change to the ban on night flights by helicopters bringing workers to and from the platforms and rigs offshore.
On Tuesday, company representatives said they have decided, following consultations with offshore workers, to move ahead with asking the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) to extend the hours in their flying day.
The request is not for a full return to night flights, they said.
Instead, if approved, helicopters would take off and fly offshore during daylight hours, but flights would be allowed to land at night, just after dusk.
According to information provided, what is being requested would amount to about 1.5 hours of additional flying time each day.
The main issue for the companies and some workers is backlog and delayed flights.
“We had a look back at some of our statistics from the past year,” said Reg Mullett, Husky Energy’s marine superintendant. Between November 2012 and March 2013, he noted 60 missed flights, affecting about 1,000 passengers — making it likely some workers were delayed in travel more than once.
“On a frequent basis, we tend to time out at the end of the day, especially in the shorter days of the month and we do a review at the end of the day and often missed flights are a matter of minutes at times,” Mullett said.
He added helicopters have been on the tarmac, about to take off, when a call from a control room instructs the pilots to stand down because of the time of day.
‘A modest extension’
Paul Barnes with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the request coming is for “a modest extension of the flying day.”
“The rationale, really, behind that is we’re finding ourselves in periods where there’s a backlog (in flights) due to fog or bad weather and certainly now, in the winter months, where we’re finding ourselves in reduced daylight hours, that there can be a backlog and if we can fly in this little bit of dusk essentially that we’re looking for, we can relieve many of these cases,” he said.
Representatives for Suncor, Husky Energy and the Hibernia Management and Development Corp. (HMDC) all said their companies are committing to not asking for further change in the status quo without a separate review and OK from the CNLOPB.
In other words, they will not schedule any true night flights without a separate approval process.
And that is assuming their first request gets an OK from the board when filed.
The oil company representatives who spoke with The Telegram went on to make a presentation on the subject at the CNLOPB’s latest safety forum. The presentation included information gathered in 12 sets of worker consultations at offshore installations, in August and September.
A few more steps
Before a formal filing with the CNLOPB, one additional set of consultations has to be completed, they said, with workers on the West Aquarius drill rig.
There will also be a search and rescue exercise to come first in early November. Finally, the framework for a study on bird movements must be finalized.
Once these pieces are in place, the companies will go to the CNLOPB on flight times.
“We are taking the employees’ feedback into consideration,” said Dwayne Zeller, asset manager for the Terra Nova FPSO for Suncor.
Zeller completed the consultations on helicopter flying time with workers at Terra Nova. “We certainly understand it’s an emotional issue,” he said.
“When we have this conversation, what we don’t always talk about is the continuous improvements that we’ve made since 2010,” said HMDC president Jamie Long, of offshore helicopter safety.
He highlighted Cougar Helicopters’ search and rescue capabilities, night vision equipment, improvements in the helicopters’ structure and new training for pilots.
Transport Canada has jurisdiction over helicopter flights. That regulator has fully approved Cougar’s aircraft to fly oil workers offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.
An agreement between the CNLOPB and oil companies restricted flights to daylight hours after the crash of Cougar Flight 491, and the death of 17 people.
The accident led to a re-evaluation of offshore helicopter flights by all parties.
The CNLOPB launched an Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry, resulting in a set of recommendations related to safety and the creation of an implementation team, to make sure those recommendation became reality.