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 of operators remain unchanged from 2015 at 10 (vs 13 in 2014).  The big three are Bristow, ERA and PHI, with RLC strong in the single engine sector.

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)
ERA Helicopters Leonardo AW189 (Credit: ERA)

ERA Helicopters Leonardo AW189 (Credit: ERA)

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:

Aerossurance is an Aberdeen based aviation consultancy but has first hand GOM helicopter safety improvement experience.  For expert advice on offshore helicopter safety, operations and contracting matters, contact us at enquiries@aerossurance.com