Helicopter Ops and Safety – Gulf of Mexico 2016 Update
The Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference (HSAC) has been publishing data on the Gulf of Mexico (‘GOM’) offshore helicopter fleet and its safety since 1995. We have looked at their 2014 and 2015 reports previously. Now we examine their 2016 data.
Helicopter Operations: GOM Fleet Data
HSAC report that flying activity continues to decline, with just under 196k flying hours in 2016 (14% down on the 228k in 2015 and vs 298k in 2014 and 410k in the peak year of 2007). The fleet is now 344 helicopters (only slightly down on the 346 in 2015 but vs 415 in 2014).
Flying hours, passenger numbers and flights have dropped by 38%, 34% and 41% respectively over the last 5 years. This is indicative of the economic decline in the small ageing coastal fields and delayed investment in deepwater exploration and production due to the drop in oil price from mid-2014 onwards.
The number single engine helicopters grew slightly by 9 to 188 but is down 32% over 5 years. The light twin fleet grew by 2 to 39 but is down 32% over 5 years. However average utilisation also fell:
- Single engine - 631 flying hours with an average 19 minute sector length (vs 711 flying hours and 19 mins in 2015)
- Light twin - 290 flying hours with an average 19 minute sector length (vs 460 flying hours and 19 mins in 2015)
The medium twin fleet dropped from 80 to 69 (38% lower than 5 years ago). The number of heavy twins (mainly Sikorsky S-92As) has risen by 70% last 5 years to 48 but are 2 less than the peak in 2015. Their average utilisation also fell:
- Medium twin – 577 flying hours with an average 34 minute sector length (vs 606 flying hours and 33 mins in 2015)
- Heavy twin – 554 flying hours with an average 35 minute sector length (vs 715 flying hours and 35 mins in 2015)
The medium / heavy twin usage per aircraft is considerably less that the average for the UK North Sea fleet, partly due to the greater use of pooled aircraft to meet sole use contracts in Europe. The decline in medium and heavy usage suggests that similar arrangements at some of the larger bases could result in cost savings.
Helicopter Safety GOM
HSAC say there were no accidents in 20016 (vs 3 non-fatal accidents in 2015 [though the NTSB reported 4, as we noted last year] and 4 accidents in 2014, 1 fatal). This is only the 4th fatality free year in their 33 years of data.
Consequently, according to HSAC:
- The 2016 accident rate was 0 (vs 1.31 per 100k flying hours in 2015 and 1.35 in 2014) Note: The 2015 rate would be 1.73 per 100k flying hours if all 4 occurrences listed by the NTSB are included.
- The 2016 fatal accident rate was 0 (vs 0 in 2015 and 0.34 per 100k flying hours in 2014).
2017 however is not as rosy with 3 accidents so far, 2 fatal:
- 6 February 2017 Bell 206B N978RH of Republic Helicopters ,which crashed into water near Galveston while returning from an oil tanker with the loss of 1 of the 3 persons on board, notably at night (see our article Deadly Delay). UPDATE 11 December 2017: The NTSB determined the probable cause as: “The pilot’s failure to recognize the flight had encountered instrument meteorological conditions at night, which resulted in an unrecognized descent and collision with water.”
- 27 February 2017 Bell 407 N1371 of Westwind Helicopters, which crashed into the sea while being positioned to shore for an engine cowling repair, with the loss of the pilot. UPDATE 23 February 2018: The NTSB determined the probable cause as: “The pilot’s failure to maintain proper altitude resulting in a collision with water for reasons that could not be determined based on the available information.”
- 2 May 2017 Bell 407 N457PH of PHI suffered damage the NTSB classified as substantial after the loss of a tail rotor blade tip cap. A safe emergency landing was made.