Eurocopter’s EC225 is back in the air following the grounding of the type since October 2012 related to a shaft failure issue. African oil and gas operator SonAir is the first to resume EC225 missions, conducting a series of three flights with two helicopters from its base at Luanda to a pair of offshore platforms.
One of SonAir's EC225s in flight near an offshore platform. Photo by Anthony Pecchi/courtesy of Eurocopter
SonAir has headquarters in Angola, serving as the aviation division of Sonangol, the country’s national oil company. There are 11 EC225s at SonAir’s base in Luanda, with nine conducting crew change missions for the offshore sector. The aviation division also flies four AS332 L2s and three AS365 N3s. Joao Andrade, chairman and CEO, notes that the three “routine” flights confirmed that the EC225’s return-to-service “is backed by strong safety measures” that boost the confidence of its clients.
|Offshore-configured EC225 in the CHC fleet.
Earlier in July, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) validated the safety measures that Eurocopter recommended in connection to the shaft failures. The main focus of the investigation has been to prevent cracking in the main gear bevel shaft.
It is understood that the fix involves a partial redesign of the bevel shaft as well as additional software and cockpit warning indicators. Eurocopter is preparing to help operators with the necessary modifications and maintenance training.
Operators of Eurocopter’s Super Puma EC225 fleet serving the energy industry in the North Sea have had their aircraft grounded since October 2012, when a CHC helicopter ditched off Shetland Islands, north of the Scottish mainland. This followed the April 2009 tragedy, when two crewmen and 14 oil workers were killed when their Bond AS332L2 experienced a catastrophic gearbox failure and crashed into the sea. Two other lesser incidents involving the aircraft type also occurred.
At the Paris Air Show in June, Jean-Brice Dumont, chief technical officer explained that Eurocopter has “found the full set of explanation, the full root cause; we have agreed with the authorities on the technical content of the measures that will allow return into service.” The fix comes after extensive ground and flight testing. One EC225 test team went as far as a deliberate shaft failure. “It is not only a question of approval by the authorities, it is also a question of confidence from our customers and their passengers,” Dumont said.
The retrofit kit is a short-term solution for the in-service fleet, but Eurocopter engineers are also working on a new shaft design.
CEO Guillaume Faury admitted the situation has had an impact on sales. “During the first half of 2013, we’ve had slow deliveries and bookings,” he noted. The company took provisions that appear in its 2012 financial performance. Even the EC175 program is feeling the impact of the EC225’s woes. Certification has been postponed to early 2014. “In light of recent events, we are running many kinds of maturation tests on what could be the weak points of the aircraft,” Dumont said. First deliveries will be to UTair, NHV and Heli-Union. —Andrew Drwiega and Thierry Dubois contributed to this report
Further information about the EC225 fix can be found at the following website: www.ec225news.com
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