Eurocopter Canada goes to great lengths, and heights, to land offshore oil work
The EC225 Super Puma flying over St. John’s this week had a long journey to reach the province.
The aircraft was in operation on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean before being dismantled, shipped to Halifax, reassembled, then flown to St. John’s for a three-day sales pitch by Eurocopter Canada, targeting the offshore oil industry.
The entire affair required several months of preparation on the part of the helicopter’s manufacturer.
“We’re operating this aircraft right now in the North Sea, which is a similar type of operation as in Newfoundland and we’re working to introduce that aircraft in Newfoundland (for) a long time now,” said Guillaume LePrince, vice-president of Eurocopter Canada.
“We believe it was time for the (local) industry to discover that aircraft. That’s why we brought the aircraft here.”
He noted aircraft features such as large windows, staggered seating and a collection of pieces used to reduce in-flight vibration.
“The EC225 is a safe aircraft,” he said.
“We have a 30-minute run-dry which is certified by the authorities and we have even been able to prove the main gearbox can stay over 50 minutes working oil-free,” he said, as part of a list of safety features.
The run-dry time for the aircraft’s main gearbox is notable, given a detailed review of the crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 — a Sikorsky S92 model — discovered the helicopter faced a massive loss of oil pressure within the main gearbox.
That helicopter was crippled by the lack of oil pressure, in 11 minutes.
The additional time with the helicopter running allows the pilots to decide on a course of action and, if necessary, prepare to ditch into the sea.
Eurocopter Canada’s sales pitch comes at a good time.
Companies producing oil offshore Newfoundland are opening up a competitive bidding process for helicopter services. It holds the potential for Eurocopter to get in on a market currently dominated by Sikorsky’s S92s, flown by Cougar Helicopters.
Yet Eurocopter has had its own issues with its featured aircraft — namely, a pair of ditchings in the North Sea in 2012. No lives were lost in either incident. The company has since completed a review of both cases, bringing in solutions for issues identified.
The helicopter model was ordered grounded for a time, but cleared and returned to service in August.
“Proposals will be sought from service providers with aircraft that are capable of operating safely in this environment and over the distances we require. The aircraft chosen will be certified by all relevant aviation authorities,” stated a spokeswoman for the Hibernia Management and Development Co. Ltd.
“We will have a rigorous process for assessing proposals, and anticipate that a contract will be awarded in the first half of 2014.”
While the timing is good — as is the EC225 Super Puma’s 838-kilometre standard range — the exact benefit to the aircraft company from this week’s flights remains unclear.
Husky Energy representatives took part in a briefing and flight Monday, a spokeswoman confirmed.
However, representatives for ExxonMobil went for a briefing only and did not fly.
“We only just completed our 2013 exploration program and our plans regarding future appraisal drilling are being worked on now,” stated a spokeswoman for Statoil.
“With no specific requirements for helicopter services at this time, it is difficult to make any comments. We will assess our options for helicopters when our plans are final.”
Staff at the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) did not take in either the industry briefing or a flight, according to a spokesman for the regulator.
He added the CNLOPB would demand any aircraft selected by the oil companies for use offshore Newfoundland would meet both Transport Canada regulations and the board’s standards.
A spokeswoman for Cougar Helicopters said the service provider is already familiar with the EC225 Super Puma. The company skipped the show and tell.
“Cougar has previously had the opportunity to review, inspect and evaluate this aircraft,” she stated.
“This particular showing of product is for the benefit of those who may not be so familiar with the product.”