Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sikorsky Orders Safety Checks on Choppers: An S-92 operated by CHC Group suffered a malfunction when landing on an oil rig in December

The Wall Street Journal
Jan. 10, 2017 12:19 p.m. ET

Lockheed Martin Corp. said Tuesday that it was ordering inspections of the global Sikorsky S-92 helicopter fleet following an accident in the U.K. last month, disrupting use of a workhorse for the offshore oil and gas industry.

Sikorsky issued a safety alert for the S-92 but isn’t grounding the fleet, which is widely used to carry energy workers and supplies as well as for search and rescue operations and transporting VIPs.

Lockheed Martin also is supplying a heavily modified version that will be used for the new presidential helicopter fleet that serves as Marine One, with the first due to enter service in 2020.

The move poses another challenge for helicopter operators such as Bristow Group Inc. that already wrestle with a downturn in demand because of low energy prices and the aftermath of a fatal crash involving an Airbus SE Super Puma helicopter off the Norwegian coast last year.

HeliOffshore, which represents companies involved in North Sea offshore helicopter operations, said the Sikorsky safety alert “will disrupt the offshore oil and gas industry in the short term.”

Sikorsky ordered the extra checks after an S-92 operated by CHC Group Ltd. suffered a malfunction on landing on an oil rig Dec. 28. Nobody was hurt in the hard landing, which is still under investigation.

Last year’s Super Puma crash led to the fleet’s grounding, leaving operators to scramble to replace the capacity usually provided by the model that was a mainstay of offshore operations. The problems with the Airbus helicopter forced operators to lean more heavily on the Sikorsky model.

Sikorsky said it would take around two days to complete the 11-hour inspections. It said it was working closely with customers and authorities to determine the cause of the problem. Operators have been instructed to inspect the tail rotor of their S-92s before returning them to service.

The British Airline Pilots Association, which represents many of the pilots laid off because of reductions in services in the North Sea, said it wanted “to see these checks carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible so that North Sea and Search and Rescue operations can return to normal.”

Those flying the S-92 also should complete more frequent inspections until a software fix is provided, Britain’s air safety regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, said.

Shares in Bristow were recently down more than 3% at $18.77. The stock had doubled since early November as rising oil prices raised the prospect of improving demand. The company uses the S-92 to support the energy industry and to provide search and rescue services for the U.K. government.

A Bristow spokeswoman said checks on its aircraft would take about six hours each and would have “minimal impact” on its operations.

CHC, the second-largest offshore operator, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.

The downturn has prompted operators to cancel or defer some new orders, affecting manufacturers such as Lockheed, Airbus and Leonardo SpA.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.wsj.com

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