New Rig Approach System Operational

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Few aviation operations are as tricky and dangerous as helicopter flights to and from oil rigs, but recently Sikorsky introduced commercial use of an automated approach system that reduces pilot workload by up to 60 percent. The new "Rig Approach" system was in development for five years. Sikorsky worked with PHI, which operates S-92 and S-76 helicopters to oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, to develop and test the technology. "Rig Approach gets all of its data from the satellite constellation; there is no land-based equipment involved," PHI operations director Pat Attaway told the Miami Herald. "The system can fly the helicopter until it's half a mile away from the rig and 200 feet above the water."

At that point, the pilot can choose to manually land or can stay coupled to the system. Veteran oil-rig helicopter pilot Ron Doeppner told the Herald the system positions the helicopter in the ideal place for an approach to the rig every time. "When the pilot is manually flying the helicopter, it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to figure out the approach," Doeppner said. "Rig Approach frees the pilot to concentrate on other details like weather and responding to radio crosstalk from the home base and the rig." The system was FAA approved earlier this year. It will be available as an option on S-92 helicopters and can be retrofitted to aircraft already operating.