Cool response from some to extending offshore flying day

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Lori Chynn lost her husband, John Pelley, in the crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 on March 12, 2009.

“It’s still a concern,” Chynn said, when asked Wednesday about offshore helicopter transports.

Chynn was at Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s for the unveiling of a new memorial marking the crash that killed her husband and the crash of a Universal Helicopters flight in 1985.

“The safety, I don’t know. I’m still not convinced it’s safe enough to fly. I don’t think there’s been enough research into it, enough study done to prove it is a safe thing to do,” she said.

Her comments reflect the anxiety of a lot of workers in the offshore oil industry, their families and friends ever since the 2009 accident that killed 17 people.

That anxiety grows when the topic is narrowed to night flights — helicopter transports in the dark.

An agreement between the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) and the oil companies operating offshore restricted flights to daylight hours after the crash of Cougar Flight 491.

On Tuesday, representatives for the offshore operators — specifically Suncor, Husky Energy and the Hibernia Management and Development Corp. (HMDC) — pointed to the advances in helicopter safety since the crash, including increased pilot training, machine upgrades and the creation of a dedicated search and rescue service.

The company representatives then said they would seek a change in the ban on night flights, and make a formal filing with the CNLOPB in near future.

The request comes following consultations with offshore workers, they said.

It would not be a full removal of the ban on night flights, but would allow for flights to land at night, just after dusk.

It amounts to about an extra hour and a half of flying time each day.

“This really is an attempt by the oil operators to get a full return to night flights,” said a less-than-impressed Lana Payne, Atlantic director for Unifor.

The union represents workers on the Terra Nova FPSO and the Hibernia oil platform.

Payne acknowledged some workers at both sites may be OK with extending the flying day — as has been indicated by representatives for the employer companies — but Unifor is not supporting any change to the status quo, she said.

She suggested allowing flying in the dark, for any extent of time, would be akin to allowing tradespeople working at dangerous heights to not wear a fall protection harness because they feel safe without it.

The point, Payne said, is to have measures in place to protect workers from the increased risks of flying at night to and from the offshore.

“I don’t know how many times we have to say it or how much evidence we have to produce. … It is inherently more dangerous,” she said, speaking with The Telegram by phone Wednesday afternoon.

Transport Canada has jurisdiction over helicopter flights. That regulator has fully approved Cougar’s aircraft to fly oil workers offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

Organizations: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, Hibernia, Universal Helicopters Cougar Flight 491.On Husky Energy Terra Nova FPSO Transport Canada

Geographic location: Quidi Vidi Lake

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