Oil rig operators in the stormy North Sea depend on sturdy helicopters like Eurocopter's Super Puma to move personnel, but recently a series of scares and concerns has disrupted those flights. Last week, an L2 Super Puma with 16 passengers and two crew, bound for an offshore platform, declared an emergency and returned to Aberdeen after a warning light came on in the cockpit. Two other L2 Super Pumas made emergency U-turns last month, according to local news reports. And in October, the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority restricted over-water flights of the EC225 Super Puma fleet after two of them ditched in the North Sea, one in October and one in May.
The CAA investigation found that on both of the ditched aircraft, "the failure of the bevel gear vertical shaft occurred as a result of high cycle fatigue cracking in the area of the weld and is thought to be as a result of the shaft bending (flexing) as it rotates." Nobody was hurt in either incident. Eurocopter told customers recently that it hopes to have a fix for the problem and return the fleet to full operating status by February, according to The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, the loss of the helicopters, which make up about one-third of the North Sea oil-rig fleet, has caused operational stress and extra costs for operators.