Following a year-long probe into accidents involving
) helicopters used for North Sea oil operations, the U.K. Civil
Aviation Authority (CAA) has demanded upgrades to new and
existing models in order to minimize the vulnerability of these
aircrafts to malfunctions.
The CAA's independent evaluation was incited by 25 offshore
crashes in the past 2 decades, including two high-profile
accidents in 2012, involving Airbus EC225 models. The U.K.
regulator recommended new designs to safeguard users who rely on
offshore helicopter flights.
Airbus witnessed two high-profile fatal crashes on AS332
medium-sized, twin-engined helicopter off Shetland and a police
EC135 light, twin-engined helicopter on a pub in Glasgow, in
addition to other non-fatal incidents involving EC225 offshore
fleet of rotorcraft.
Preliminary studies indicated that the malfunction was caused by
a crack in the gear shaft. After exhaustive investigation into
the root cause, Airbus concluded that the crack resulted from
assorted factors that collectively weakened fatigue strength of
the vertical shaft in the main gearbox.
Airbus' Safety Measures
Combating a heavy setback in terms of cost and confidence of
operators, Airbus returned most of the EC225 fleet with a
temporary fix. Exhibiting its commitment to technological
advancement, Airbus increased safety through greater automation
and reduction of crew workload in its new EC175 medium-sized,
It also outlined some preventive safety measures to reduce the
possibility of malfunctions, including two additional measures
that will detect crack initiation before take-off with a periodic
ultrasonic non-destructive inspection. In case of an improbable
failure of the same, a new on-board vibration monitoring system
will identify the crack propagation and warn the pilot with
adequate time for a safe return to base and a normal landing.
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To improve the pilot's awareness during flights, particularly
during difficult weather conditions, Airbus has also come up with
the latest generation of the EC225 with new glass cockpit,
improved man-machine interface and 4-axes autopilot.
Keeping in mind that the accidents are not confined to
helicopters of one manufacturer, and that the use of helicopters
for longer-range over-water missions in the energy sector is
increasing, the CAA has put forward demands that helicopters are
outfitted with flotation gear to safeguard passengers, and
life-jackets and rafts be enhanced. It also recommended that
workers using flights to oil platforms should get enhanced
As an interim safety measure, until the recommendations are
implemented and all helicopters are fitted with flotation or
emergency breathing equipment, helicopter capacity will be
restricted from June to ensure each passenger is next to an
With recession hurting demand in the aviation sector, oil and gas
industry has emerged as the likely savior for global commercial
helicopter manufacturers including Airbus, Finmeccanica SpA's
United Technology Corp.
) Sikorsky. As energy companies seek to exploit more remote
reserves, demand for medium-sized and heavy helicopters is
expected to increase significantly.
Airbus Group currently holds a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some other
stocks in the industry that look promising and are worth a look
Northrop Grumman Corp.
), holding a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) and
Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc.
), carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).