North Sea Super Pumas likely to be retired. Personally?… good.

In a move that will bring very few nostalgic tears to the eyes of offshore workers, CHC Helicopters has announced that from early June 2016 they will cease to fly the Airbus H225 helicopter for North Sea oil crew changes.  All I can say is… good.

The helicopter, formerly known as the Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma, is deeply unpopular with offshore employees following multiple incidents and fatalities across a number of years and offshore locations. I have personally had the displeasure of regularly flying to North Sea offshore platforms and rigs onboard the Super Puma fleet and, like most other people, feel a relief come over me when the pre-flight safety DVD is started and ‘Sikorsky S92‘ is selected from the on-screen menu.

My memories of my first trip offshore are still vivid.  I nervously (and awkwardly) donned my yellow and blue offshore survival suit and boarded a thundering Sikorsky S92 after the pre-flight safety briefing, fidgeted with my life jacket while the rotor blades throttled the whole aircraft back and forth, buckled myself in to my four point harness, and then sat white-fingered for an hour or so until we touched down on an absolute hulk of a 1970’s-built oil platform 100 miles out to sea.  The experience was exhilarating.  My thoughts on the helicopter were positive; goods spacious seats, plenty of room to board and disembark, and once flying out past Peterhead en-route to the platform the ride was pretty smooth once we were cruising.

The return flight wasn’t quite the same experience.

The pre-flight video was for a Super Puma EC225.  But hey ho… as an obvious ‘green hat’ to the industry I just faked the same smile I wore on the outbound trip and got ready for the flight.  A chopper is a chopper, right?  Well, no.  No indeed it is not.

From the exterior, the equally thunderous EC225 Super Puma certainly looked the part.  Not quite as industrially pretty as the S92, and more militaristic in character than the boxy chariot that took me out there two weeks previously,  but still comfortingly powerful looking.  One by one, 18 of us crossed the helipad and dumped our bags near the rear for the Heli-deck crew to stuff in the annals of the machine and then, as my turn came to embark, I was immediately confused to the point of not knowing where to go next.

Taking a seat inside a Super Puma is a matter of leaving all learned etiquette at the door.  Expect to squeeze past six-foot tall burly men. Expect to crouch down to navigate to the front or rear seats.  Expect to wrestle with yourself to get your harness clipped in.  Expect knees to be interlocked.  And expect, on certain seats, to only be able to have half your rear end on that perch, potentially for over two hours.

I’m not going to touch on escape potential, because people have lost their lives in the attempt and the subject will be raw for too many.  But I do have something very poignant to say about exits…

Goodbye Super Puma.  The North Sea will not miss you.  If only money and the lack of business wasn’t the driver for your exit, we’d be all the happier.

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