Helicopter is the primary method of transporting employees to and from work in the offshore. The industry works diligently every day to make sure this mode of transportation is as safe as possible.
Helicopters used to transport workers to and from Atlantic Canada’s offshore facilities are certified to the highest standards and regulated by Transport Canada and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Helicopter operators adhere to strict safety procedures and policies, which are overseen by local oil and natural gas companies and by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Boards.
Maintenance, Planning and Monitoring
Helicopter crews and support staff must meet rigorous training requirements and experience levels before operating both on- and offshore. These crews and support staff undertake extensive maintenance programs on their aircrafts, which includes regular daily and weekly checks as well as those based on hours of operation or in response to planned or required maintenance. There are also checks that happen after every flight.
Helicopter operators use Safety Management Systems (SMS) to help manage the consistent application of policies and procedures, both in terms of regulatory compliance and helicopter manufacturer updates, and in terms of the expectations of the operators who are contracting the service.
Travelling by Helicopter Offshore
Arriving for an offshore flight is not unlike travel with a commercial airline and features similar check-in and security protocols. However, offshore passengers are also issued the appropriate safety equipment, including helicopter passenger transportation suits, personal locator beacons and the Helicopter Underwater Emergency Breathing Apparatus (HUEBA). Support staff is responsible for checking each suit before flight and passengers are accountable for their own personal safety and for ensuring their suits fit properly.
The scheduling and management of offshore flights involves a number of people and support services, from weather checks offshore to air traffic control and flight scheduling services. Helicopter operators maintain an operational control/flight following function to coordinate and manage these flights. All flights are monitored via satellite, with regular updates that include speed, altitude and which personnel are on board.
Pilots working in the offshore industry must meet prescribed standards, have relevant expertise and have logged a set schedule of flying hours in the aircraft and operating conditions in question.
As is the case at the helicopter base onshore, offshore bases/installations also feature teams ready to support both arrival and departure of helicopters. Teams include landing officers, logistics coordinators, weather observers and radio operators.
Once the helicopter is safely on deck and the passengers have disembarked, the helicopter is once again checked by pilots and helideck teams. This includes the pilot doing a visual inspection of the exterior of the helicopter while on deck, as crews prepare for the return flight.
Training for Offshore Workers
Before travelling offshore, workers must undertake a comprehensive, five-day basic survival training program, which provides them with the knowledge and skills to react effectively to an offshore emergency situation. This training includes pool exercises in the Helicopter Underwater Escape Trainer (HUET), a special module designed to model a helicopter like those used offshore. Workers must practice escaping from a submerged and partially-submerged helicopter as part of this training. Each individual also receives a safety briefing before every offshore trip to remind them of the proper use of emergency response equipment and procedures. The industry views this training as vital to emergency preparedness and response planning.