- Number of Helicopters are involved in offshore flying for oil producing companies (Mumbai, Rajah Mundri) and for inter-island transportation in Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands.
- Offshore flying is highly challenging and poses number of hazards. Number of tragic accidents have occurred possibly due to lack of knowledge, Situational Awareness and violation of SOP’s, Check List, Rules and Regulations.
- One of the serious hazard of offshore flying is Spatial Disorientation due to lack of visual references. All the pilots must understand the phenomenon of Spatial Disorientation and should be careful about this inherent danger of offshore flying.
- In poor visibility conditions due to rain, fog and low clouds, the pilots may get into Spatial Disorientation which may lead to loss of Situational Awareness and CFIT accidents.
Following Precautions are recommended to Prevent Accidents, Incidents:-
Planning and Preparation.
Knowledge of the Terrain
Good Planning and Preparation for the Flight is essential for ensuring the safety and efficiency of the operations.
During planning, it is essential to have a good knowledge of the terrain, route, obstructions, Minimum Safe altitude, Min Descent Altitude, Enroute Altitude and Off Route Altitude.
The location and elevation of the obstructions around the Helidecks, Helipads and Runways should be known to the pilots. It is good practice to mark the obstructions like Communication Towers, Pylons, HT Cables and other significant obstructions on the map and also have GPS Coordinates. The Maps displaying the location and elevation of the obstructions should be available in the Briefing Room for the information of the pilots.
Weather developments in offshore areas are quite swift and particularly during Monsoon months, the offshore areas experience very severe turbulence, heavy rains, low clouds, strong winds and poor visibility.
The Pilots and Dispatchers must ensure thorough knowledge about the weather (Current as well as Forecast) and must keep updating the weather developments. Various Weather Sites like IMD, Acu Weather, Sky Met, Meteo Earth and Windy etc. can be very useful to the Pilots and dispatchers for building good knowledge about the Weather.
Make good use of METARS, ATIS to remain updated with the weather. Difference of less than 4 degree temperature between surface temperature and dew point temperature is indicative of low clouds and adverse weather.
Pilots must learn to respect the weather and take no chances with the weather. Proper risk assessment of the Flight is to be carried out keeping weather uppermost in mind.
Flying through adverse weather can lead to stress damage on rotor blades, fuselage and even loss of control. Make good use of weather Radar to detect, analyse and avoid adverse weather.
Proper Pre Flight briefing is not to be ignored and briefing between Captain and Co Pilot must cover the Terrain, Weather, Sea Condition, fuel on board, Point of No Return, load (Cargo as well as Passengers), aspects related to Spatial Disorientation, loss of situational Awareness, likely hazards like birds, drones, other aircraft, helicopters operating in the area, action to be taken in case of any contingencies/emergencies and division of duties and responsibilities.
Remember fuel is life particularly for offshore operations. Proper Fuel Planning, ensuring that required amount of fuel is available in the tanks for the flight, keeping a track of fuel consumption and always carrying extra fuel subject to Max all up weight, to cater for contingencies needs to be always kept in mind. Taking decision in time to return, divert or land at a suitable place in case of adverse weather conditions are vital safety considerations. Avoid stretching your luck too far and past successes should not influence your decision making.
Flying over Sea offers ideal conditions for disorientation particularly during poor visibility conditions. It is essential for both the pilots to be aware of the hazards of Spatial Disorientation and steps to be taken to prevent the same. Trusting the instruments and disregarding body sensations, flying on auto pilot are the key to avoid Spatial Disorientation. Scanning the instruments, not getting fixated on some particular instrument, Co Pilot being alert and vigilant to caution the Captain with proper monitoring of instruments, without any fear or apprehension, are some of the useful tips to remember.
CRM is of paramount importance in all types of flying particularly so in the face of challenging environments. Both the Pilots should have good interpersonal communication, coordination and fully cooperate with each other. Captain need to give due respect and importance to his/her Co Pilot, treat him or her with dignity and involve the Co Pilot in the conduct of flight and decision making. It is also important for the Captain to keep open and cooperative atmosphere and encourage the Co Pilot to speak up, give flight and safety related inputs and even correct the Captain if he is doing something wrong. While being polite and respectful, the Co Pilot needs to be assertive if the situation demands. Co Pilot should be fully involved in the progress of the flight, be alert, vigilant and not leave everything to the Captain. Close monitoring of the parameters and surroundings will help in maintaining good Situational Awareness.
Knowledge is Power and Knowledge is Safety. Have good knowledge of the Helicopter, its Systems,Instruments,GPS,Radar, Nav Pro,Automatic Flight Control System,EHSI,EADI,location of switches,CB’s, Emergencies, ILS, VOR Charts, Procedures, interpretation of Jepson maps, charts etc. More the knowledge, better the Situational Awareness and Safety. Knowledge about Special Disorientation, Illusions, CFIT, Wind Sheer, Density Altitude, Vortex Ring, Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness, Dynamic Roll Over and Ground Resonance can go a long way in improving the safety of the flight.
Passenger briefing is a mandatory safety and legal requirement. Passengers should be briefed about the Do’s and Don’ts with emphasis on Ditching Drill including body position a before impact, use of Life Jackets, escape hatches, fire extinguishers and Emergency Breathing Equipment if carried. Passenger also should be briefed to inform the crew in case they notice any leaks, smoke, flame, smell, unusual sound or any other threat to safety.
Proper approach briefing would ensure good CRM, Situational Awareness, coordinated crew action and awareness about the hazards during approach. Various aspects related to the approach i.e. correct Height Speed Combination, on Localiser and Glide Path where available, Minimum Descent Altitude/Height, missed approach procedure, location of other aircraft, helicopters, birds, drones, loose flying objects, obstructions around the runway,helipad,helideck, and wake turbulence should be covered during approach briefing.
The maintenance of the helicopters at offshore locations has to be of very high standards and no compromise should be made on the serviceability of the helicopter. Never fly with snags and get them rectified even if it involves delay or cancellation, postponement of the flight. Do not succumb to any kind of pressures and do not fly the helicopter with partial serviceability.
The Maintenance personnel have a very important role to play in preventing accident/incidents. Most of the Helicopters flying offshore are quite old and demand very high standards of maintenance. Couple of emergencies on a helicopter, require immediate or landing at the earliest. In the absence of the availability of landing sites, the helicopter may be forced to ditch which is not the safest option. Hence, the Maintenance staff should be very sensitive to this aspect and make sure that the maintenance activities and snag rectification are done in a professional manner ensuring check, recheck and double check of every activity.
The life of the pilots, passengers is in the hands of maintenance personnel and they should take it as a moral responsibility to ensure their fully dedicated involvement in ensuring full airworthiness of the Helicopter.
The Helicopters flying offshore are subjected to additional hazards like ingestion of salt particles in the engine air intakes, compressors and rusting of component parts due high humidity.Regular compressor wash and close inspection of the components, parts to assess rusting, cracks, leaks are of paramount importance.
There should be good rapport and understanding between the Pilots and Engineers. Pilots must explain the snags in detail to the Ground Crew and they must interact with them to understand the rectification carried out.
SOP, Check List, Rules, Regulations
Sops, Check List, Rules, and Regulation must be followed in letter and spirit. Sop’s for offshore operations should be well drafted and followed meticulously. Periodic review of SOP’s should be carried out to keep them updated and useful.
Supervisors should fully involve themselves to ensure safe flying environments, provide necessary facilities, guidance and directions to the Crew Members. They should identify weak areas/hazards in a proactive manner and address them on highest priority lest the hazards turn into incident/accidents. Supervisors should be aware of the capabilities and limitations of the Crew Members and ensure matching the man with the machine and mission.
Offshore flying is highly demanding in terms of the Airworthiness and maintenance of the helicopter, training, knowledge and skills of the Pilots, Maintenance Personnel and involvement of Supervisors and supporting staff. Pilots need to have very high standards of skill, knowledge, situational awareness, alertness, vigilance and should never be complacent. Proper planning, preparation for the flight, professional risk assessment, thorough preflight briefing, approach briefing, timely and sound decision making are essential for the safe and efficient conduct of operations. Spatial disorientation and rapid changes in weather particularly during pre-monsoon and monsoon months pose serious threat and must be always kept uppermost in mind. Good CRM, Team Work, interpersonal relations and safety culture can go a long way in enhancing the safety of operations.