The Offshore Helicopter Pilot’s Operating

The Offshore Helicopter Pilot’s Operating


Offshore flight operations are highly complex and specialised processes. It requires high levels of training, competence and skill to plan a flight, to land and take off from an offshore installation and to consistently execute the task safely and efficiently under ‘normal’, good weather flying conditions. When a task is carried out in adverse weather (e.g. poor visibility), during night flying and when other predictable and/or unpredictable factors routinely found in and around the environs of an offshore installation or vessel, the skills of flight crews can be stretched. Unlike pilots operating from onshore airfields, offshore helicopter crews have relatively little ground-based technology and fairly limited information to assist them as they commence their final approach for landing on an offshore helideck.It is much the same when taking off.


Despite the many advances in aircraft technology, navigation, landing and communications aids in recent years, there are currently no reliable and effective electronic landing aids available for use on offshore installations / vessels. Therefore, offshore helicopter crews have to rely heavily on their acquired skills and experience when approaching, landing and taking off from offshore

installations / vessels. It is not necessary or appropriate to review the whole scope of helicopter flying in these guidelines. However, it is essential to consider two important topics concerning flight crew activities performed within the offshore flight operations process. These two topics are:

(1) Pilot information.

(2) Approach, landing and take-off manoeuvres.

Aircraft Selection

During the contracting process selection of aircraft types for offshore support operations may appear to be a matter of customer choice but ultimately, it will depend on the composition of the aircraft operator’s fleet, type availability and duration of contract. A key economic consideration from the offshore oil and gas company perspective is to maximise aircraft payloads and thus avoid the high cost of wasted aircraft capacity. Helicopter operators can help to achieve this through aircraft selection; however to do this properly, oil and gas companies will need to provide prospective helicopter operators with a detailed and accurate forecast of aircraft utilisation throughout the contract term. In addition, they should contractually ensure that day to day aircraft utilisation is monitored and implemented to secure the most cost efficient helicopter service.


Long term contracts allow a helicopter operator to better meet customer demand particularly if new airframe types are the preferred option. When specifying helicopters for offshore helicopter support operations oil and gas companies should ensure that they are properly equipped for the type of operations to be undertaken. Offshore oil and gas companies should consider the above factors during the Invitation to Tender phase.


Minimum Equipment List (MEL)

Flight crews and maintenance personnel must always have available for reference an approved aircraft Minimum Equipment List (MEL) for the appropriate aircraft type.




Maintenance Requirements

All aircraft maintenance shall be carried out in accordance with the approved manufacturers’ instructions, service bulletins, airworthiness directives and inspection / replacement schedules as officially issued and amended from time to time.

Quality Assurance

A key element of an effective SMS is the existence and application of a suitable Quality Assurance (QA) System that includes an internal audit program that is managed at the local operational level, and is subject to periodic management review. An air operator’s Quality Assurance system should cover the operations, maintenance and support organisations. The key elements of such a system should include the appointment of a Quality Manager, procedures for the operation of the system, an audit plan, record of audit findings, evidence of follow-up and close-out of findings, and an executive review process.


Aircraft Operator Auditing

An aircraft operators should be reviewed on a regular basis, at a frequency determined by risk, exposure, usage and performance of the air operation on the previous review. There is a distinct difference between commercial and technical / operational auditing. These guidelines do not cover commercial auditing so the following sections relate only to aviation flight, technical and support operations audits. Oil and gas companies should recall that offshore helicopter operators are highly regulated and are audited annually by the regulator/ or third competent party across their entire operation. Therefore, the frequency, style and manner in which customer flight, technical and support operations audits are conducted at the aircraft operator’s facility should be properly considered. The required audit frequency and reporting value to the oil and gas company / duty holder to assure proper management overview, due diligence and contractor compliance should be fully considered; along with the potential for creating significant interference with the aircraft operator’s day to day operations.


Aviation Auditing Principles

Aircraft operator flight, technical and support operations audits are required by oil and gas companies in order to determine initial suitability and capability for providing a safe offshore helicopter service and thereafter to assess ongoing contractual compliance and, where appropriate, to make recommendations for improvements. Aviation flight, technical and support operations auditing is a specialist area that requires trained and competent auditors and often, these individuals are not normally retained members of oil and gas company staff so they have to be outsourced.


Coordination of Audits

Audit visits must be planned in close co-operation with the aircraft operators and managed appropriately to reduce the impact that the potentially large number of audits can have on the helicopter company day-to-day operations. Where several companies use the same helicopter operator, consideration should be given to a ‘joint audit’ with a single audit team representation. Alternatively, oil and gas companies are encouraged to co-operate in a pooling arrangement for auditing that would see agreed periods where several aircraft company customers audit the aircraft operator at the same time but with their own audit teams.




Audit Frequency

The planned frequency at which audits are carried out by oil and gas companies is generally dependant on contractual requirements. Normally, these audits will be conducted on an annual or biennial basis. The oil and gas company initiates the audit process, with suitable advance notice, by arranging direct with the helicopter operators. Usually, a minimum of three months is required for scheduling audits. Audits shall be arranged at realistic intervals to minimise the operational impact on the helicopter operators. It should be noted that the average audit could take several people several man days for the aircraft operator to complete the whole process. This includes planning, time spent on pre-audit questionnaires, the audit itself at aircraft company head office and the operating base(s), the time needed with each nominated post holder and the time taken by the safety and quality representatives that accompany the audit team.


Minimum Auditor Qualification Standards

Personnel undertaking aviation flight, technical and support operations audits should be aeronautically trained and hold appropriate qualifications accompanied by several years’ relevant experience. Ideally, they should also have completed a recognised auditor’s course provided internally by the oil and gas company or by an organisation which is approved to supply auditor training to the International


Aviation auditors should also:

􀁸 keep their understanding of aviation systems, standards and audit procedures current and accurate;

􀁸 be able to properly collect information, evaluate evidence, make observations and draw together well founded conclusions;

􀁸 have at least four years’ of relevant aviation audit work experience;

􀁸 keep an open mind and fully understand that there are often many alternative means of compliance;

􀁸 be prepared to provide experience based practical suggestions / solutions to identified problems (if requested or challenged).


Auditor Independence and Credibility

Impartiality and objectivity of auditors are basic pre-requisites for an effective and consistent audit. A good audit will benefit both the auditor and the organization being audited by obtaining mutual agreement for ways to refine and improve the overall operation. The main principles for inspiring confidence are independence, impartiality and competence both in action and appearance. Training in audit and knowledge of the processes will ensure that an individual is competent to audit. However, since effective audit requires the full co-operation of the organisation being audited, the auditor must be credible. Individuals of sufficient authority and maturity who are not too closely associated with the organisation being audited should therefore be selected. Safeguards that mitigate or eliminate threats to auditor impartiality and therefore protect the interests of both parties should be introduced.

Auditors should not have:-

􀁸 a financial interest in the aircraft operator being audited;

􀁸 an emotional interest in the aircraft operator being audited i.e. if a relationship exists between auditor’s family members and an aircraft operator employee;

􀁸 been employed, in the previous 2 years, by the aircraft operator subject to audit;

􀁸 a particularly close or long-standing personal or professional relationship with the aircraft operator being audited;

In order to ensure independence, auditors shall not audit any processes they are directly involved in. Auditors must maintain an objective state of mind throughout the audit process to ensure that the audit findings and conclusions are only evidence based.


Developing Competence through Training

Identifying Competencies for Each Role

A Functional map should be developed summarizing the main functions and responsibilities which helideck crew would be expected to fulfill. Competence statements should be derived from the functional map. These statements describe the skills and knowledge necessary to perform the role of an HLO or an HDA.


Training the Individual to Achieve the Required Competence

The OPITO training programme contains full details of the onshore training requirements for each category of personnel, along with entry criteria, training outcomes, training programmes, practical exercises and further practice. It also sets out standards of qualification and experience for training assessment staff, instructor / delegate ratios, and specifications for training equipment, and facilities and details of training provider responsibilities.


Offshore Helicopter Operations Management


Irrespective of the specific operating purpose of the offshore installation or vessel or the frequency and extent of day-to-day helicopter operations, the same fundamental requirements for the receipt and dispatch of helicopters will apply. Nowadays, personnel involved in helideck operations have other primary duties and are not members of a full-time helideck crew. Therefore, special consideration should be given to the operating practices, procedures and continuing competence of the helideck crew. Irrespective of the frequency and volume of helicopter traffic, the level of preparedness and effectiveness of both personnel and equipment involved in helicopter operations needs to be to a single satisfactory standard. On facilities with infrequent helicopter operations, this may involve a significant commitment to ensure there are enough adequately trained personnel available for helideck duty. Such operations will require routine monitoring and testing to ensure proper standards are maintained.


Step Change in Safety – First-time Travelers

Checking in and flying offshore in a helicopter is invariably a bewildering and sometimes worrying experience for the first-time or infrequent traveler. Therefore, duty holders are encouraged to adopt appropriate procedures to identify and assist inexperienced individuals when they travel offshore in a helicopter, particularly for the first time. operators but the objectives should be the same and similar fundamental processes followed (e.g. a green armband policy).


Initial Identification of First-time Travelers

Prior to arriving at the heliport, all first-time travelers should be identified by the duty holder and employing companies (e.g. contractors, vendors and visitors). Ideally, this information should be readily available on the flight booking system at the heliport check-in desk (e.g. Vantage). In addition, attention should be drawn to the requirement that it is the individual’s responsibility to notify the check-in desk if they are a first-time or infrequent traveler.

Green Armband Policy

At the check-in desk, a first-time traveler to an installation or an infrequent visitor (more than 12 months since last flight) should be issued with a green armband and be given clear instructions to wear it in a visible location on the sleeve of the survival suit. Also, the individual should be advised that by wearing the armband they are easily identifiable to fellow passengers, the flight crew, heliport ground staff and helideck crews who can then ensure they are escorted and assisted throughout preparation and during their journey offshore.



Communications to Improve Workforce Confidence in the Safety of Helicopter Operations

Following the fatal accidents at Morecambe Bay in 2006 and during a return flight to Aberdeen in 2009 it became essential for industry to respond to workforce concerns and provide practical solutions for improving the confidence of passengers flying offshore. Solutions that are available include:

􀁸 Helicopter Operations Awareness Courses for safety representatives with a set syllabus provided by the helicopter operators that includes presentations to demonstrate the rigor and professionalism of the maintenance and operational controls, together with a tour of the operating base and other fixed elements.

􀁸 A DVD that covers similar elements with the addition of a Q & A where various individuals ask questions and to receive answers from specialists.


Providing Helideck Operating and Performance

Information for Flight Crews


Flight Planning Information

Helicopter flight crews have a vital need for accurate knowledge of the details of the helideck, available support facilities and surrounding operating environment. Therefore, installation operators and vessel owners should always provide with current drawings, specifications and relevant design reports (e.g. helideck model testing) for new or modified topsides and helidecks where the design and / or modifications have potential to degrade airflow characteristics at the helideck.


Flight Management Information

To enable flight crews to manage an offshore flight safely, an essential ingredient in the operational information flow is for them to receive accurate and up-to-date weather and installation / vessel operations data (e.g. vessel motions, number of gas turbines online, etc). Flight crew confidence in the quality of the information obtained onshore, transmitted from the installation / vessel whilst en route and at the destination helideck will be a key factor toward ensuring the flight proceeds safely and as planned.


Installation Identification

To avoid confusing helicopter flight crews and to reduce the potential for wrong deck landings, particularly where several installations of similar appearance and/or belonging to the same duty holder are in close proximity, it is essential to ensure that the installation identification boards, the helideck identification marking (i.e. the name) and the radio call sign are consistent. Refer CAP437.

Installation and vessel visual identifications should at all times be kept un-obscured, in clean condition and well illuminated at night or when there is limited visibility. It is also recommended that duty holders adopt a procedure whereby helicopters approaching to land on an offshore helideck are visually identified by the HLO and the correct helideck destination is confirmed verbally with the flight crew.


Installation / Helideck Safety Status Signals


Status Lights Protocol and Procedures

Installations and vessels (when appropriate to the type of operations being undertaken) should be equipped with a helideck status light system specified in accordance with Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 437  or ICAO Annexure 14 Volume II..


Meteorology and Adverse Weather Procedures



A key component of aviation safety and flight planning is the acquisition and use of accurate weather information. Helicopter operators routinely obtain their regional and area weather forecasts and ‘actuals’ for flight planning purposes from official Met Office sources. However, an essential part of the management of offshore helicopter operations is to provide the helicopter operator and flight crews with up-to-date and accurate weather information for the destination installation or vessel. When providing destination weather information for an offshore installation and  vessel, onshore and offshore management should ensure that the necessary instrumentation is available (properly calibrated) and a competent person employed to make comprehensive and accurate meteorological observations and readings. The information should be recorded and then transmitted to the helicopter operators and / or flight crews in the correct format with the time of the observations clearly stated. It is worth noting that should a meteorological reading be in doubt due to instrument calibration or other problem, a gross error check can be made by cross-checking with other rigs and vessels in the immediate area. The ‘agreed’ best practice for met recording, reporting and met observer training and competence can be found in CAP437, Chapter 6, The safety of helicopter operations to moving helidecks on floating structures and vessels is also dependent on flight crews receiving accurate information about helideck motions.


it is strongly recommended that installations are provided with an automated means of ascertaining the following meteorological information at all times:

  1. a) Wind speed and direction (including variations in direction);
  2. b) Air temperature and dew point temperature;
  3. c) QNH and, where applicable, QFE;
  4. d) Cloud amount and height of base (Above Mean Sea Level (AMSL));
  5. e) Visibility; and
  6. f) Present weather.


Pre-Flight Weather Reports

The latest weather report from each installation should be made available to the helicopter operator one hour before take-off. These reports should contain:

  • The name and location of the installation;
  • The date and time the observation was made;
  • Wind speed and direction;
  • Visibility;
  • Present weather (including presence of lightning);
  • Cloud amount and height of base;
  • Temperature and dew point;
  • QNH and QFE;
  • SHR;
  • Pitch and roll; and


Adverse Weather Operations

They cannot be avoided. Therefore, access to up-to-date and accurate weather forecasting information is essential to allow advance planning of helicopter operations to take place.

The onset of adverse weather conditions offshore introduces a number of related factors that must be considered and closely examined by a duty holder’s operations management (on and offshore) in order to make prudent judgments as to whether routine offshore helicopter flights should continue, be delayed or curtailed altogether.

Note: Routine is defined as all flights with the exception of those for casualty evacuation, platform evacuation and marine Search and Rescue (SAR).


Control of Crane Movement in the Vicinity of Landing Areas

Cranes can adversely distract pilots’ attention during helicopter approach and take-off from the helideck as well as infringe fixed obstacle protected surfaces. Therefore it is essential that when helicopter movements take place (±5 minutes) crane work ceases and jibs, ‘A’ frames, etc. are positioned clear of the obstacle protected surfaces and flight paths. The HLO should be responsible for the control of cranes in preparation for and during helicopter operations.

 Emergency Response

In the event of an accident involving an offshore helicopter whether en-route or on or around an offshore installation, it should be understood by oil and gas duty holders that such an event will automatically involve the helicopter operator who, as the Air Operators’ Certificate (AOC) Holder has a legal responsibility to report an occurrence and have emergency response procedures in place under the Air Navigation Order (ANO).After the initial marine SAR emergency response, co-ordinated to recover casualties, AAIB will take the accident investigation lead as required under the Civil Aviation (Investigation of Air Accidents and Incidents) Regulations The helicopter operator along with the helicopter manufacturer will become the primary focus for the AAIB Investigation whilst  regulating authority  will retain an oversight.


With offshore helicopter accidents, the above relationships are not readily recognised or acknowledged by media organisations so they will probably focus their immediate attention on the oil and gas operating company. When oil and gas operating companies are planning emergency responses that involve offshore helicopters it is therefore imperative there are well defined procedures in place to accommodate the interfaces with the helicopter operator to look after mutual interests and concerns.

􀁸 Protecting persons on the installation from fire and explosion

􀁸 Securing an effective emergency response offshore installation.


Emergency Response Planning

Airborne emergencies on offshore helicopters that result in a catastrophic fatal crash occur rarely. Unfortunately when they do happen, they instantaneously become the intensive and incessant focus of attention by the news media organisations – they are also global and this has a huge impact on crisis management for the oil and gas operating company, its contractors and the helicopter operators.


Passenger Management

To ensure the safety and comfort of all passengers travelling on offshore helicopters, it is essential that sound and consistent controls be employed.


Passenger Briefings

The helicopter operator is legally responsible for ensuring that prior to the departure of any flight all personnel travelling are given a thorough briefing on the safety instructions and emergency procedures for the type of aircraft to be flown and safety equipment in use. Where the flight involves travelling over water, all passengers should be given a comprehensive briefing on the survival suit and lifejackets to be worn, underwater Emergency Breathing System (EBS) and PLBs. A short, final departure brief should be given to passengers prior to boarding the flight The manner in which these briefings are accomplished offshore is the responsibility of the installation Operator, MODU or vessel owner.



Every aircraft operator is required by law to place flight safety information cards onboard an aircraft designed to carry passengers. These are usually placed in the seat pockets to allow free access for all passengers to study. Similarly, flight attendants, when they are carried, give a visual and verbal flight safety briefing to the passengers. Flight attendants are not normally carried onboard offshore helicopters.


Also, more comprehensive passenger briefings are required for travelers to offshore installations and vessels. The briefings are normally provided in video form in the ‘suiting-up area’ at the heliport and the offshore location. Generally, offshore installations, and vessels will provide a suitable area where passengers are shown a helicopter operator approved video briefing of the aircraft type including safety and emergency procedures and lifejacket operating instructions. Additional video briefing material covering procedures for the wearing of survival suits and using PLB and EBS devices will also be provided by the installation operator, or vessel owner. The video method is preferable to a verbal briefing. When updates and amendments to any briefings come into force, they should be made available, as soon as practicable, at all locations holding such briefing material.


Passenger Manifests

Correct manifesting by the onshore helicopter company staff and HLO of passengers, baggage and freight is essential to enable the flight crew to calculate the total weight accurately on the aircraft load sheet. Inaccurate weights on the manifest can result in adverse aircraft performance and centre of gravity limits being exceeded.

Note: The HLO should ensure that correct units of weight (e.g. lbs or kg) are used in accordance with the helicopter operators’ requirements. Incorrect use of units of weight can have a major impact on the safety of an aircraft. Manifests should be prepared in a legible fashion and sufficient copies provided for retention of records for every sector of the aircraft flight. They may be computer or manually generated.  For security reasons, all manifests should show the number of bags per passenger.


Passenger Baggage Weight Limits and Labelling

Offshore passenger baggage should not exceed 25 lbs (11.3 kg) per individual and should be contained in a properly secured, robust, soft-walled holdall. Baggage exceeding the weight limit or contained in large, hard-walled cases or cabin trunks should be despatched by an alternative shipping method. Baggage should be labelled with the correct destination on all flights. Such labels should be ‘airline type’ ensuring maximum integrity. Where a duty holder authorises (at the embarkation point) an individual’s passenger baggage limit to exceed 15 kg or the article is a large hard-walled case or cabin trunk, the helicopter crew and receiving location should be notified.


Helicopter Operations Support Equipment

Provision should be made for equipment needed for use in connection with helicopter operations including:

  1. a) chocks and tie-down strops/ropes (strops are preferable);
  2. b) heavy-duty, calibrated, accurate scales for passenger baggage and freight weighing;
  3. c) a suitable power source for starting helicopters if helicopter shut-down is seen as

an operational requirement; and

  1. d) equipment for clearing the helicopter landing area of snow and ice and other contaminants.Chocks should be compatible with helicopter undercarriage/wheel configurations.

Helicopter operating experience offshore has shown that the most effective chock for use on helidecks is the ‘NATO sandbag’ type. Alternatively, ‘rubber triangular’ or ‘single piece fore and aft’ type chocks may be used as long as they are suited to all helicopters likely to operate to the helideck. The ‘rubber triangular’ chock is generally only effective on decks without nets. For securing helicopters to the helideck it is recommended that adjustable tie-down strops are used in preference to ropes. Specifications for tie-downs should be agreed with the helicopter operators.

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