Home / Analysis / Bristow Helicopters: Is this one incident too many?
Bristow Helicopter being fished out of the Atlantic

Bristow Helicopters: Is this one incident too many?

…airline has had 10 incidents, accidents since 2007

 One would ask what is wrong with the country’s civil aviation sub-sector. It definitely is not regulation as there are rules and laws both local and domesticated ones to ensure that airlines stay in line and do the right things to ensure their passengers have a safe flight to their destinations. Then, is it a case of non-implementation of these rules and laws or are the regulators turning a blind eye to some of the airline’s antics and gimmicks to cut corners and save costs? Or are some airlines just diehards always prepared to do whatever they like when the regulators are not watching?

Be that as it may, Wednesday morning’s Bristow Helicopter Sikorsky S-76C++ ditch, as it is now called, has once again put everyone: airlines, regulators and all arms of governments on their toes, but the question that seems to be running through the minds of  keen industry watchers is, why Bristow?

Most say that since 2007, Helicopter incidents and accidents have been synonymous with Bristow and have commended the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority for doing what they view as long overdue, suspending the aircraft type and auditing the airline, although most feel that going back the 2007, the NCAA should have simply halted the airline till further notice not just the helicopter type.

According to them, the Director General of the NCAA who was the immediate past Commissioner of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) is privy to all sides of it and has been the investigator of some of the airline’s incidents and accidents therefore knows the airline’s accident history.

Following what it termed as successive mishaps of Bristow Helicopters operating aircraft SikorskyS-76C++ , the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Thursday announced the suspension of the operational equipment (helicopters) Sikorsky S-76C++ type which the airline uses till further notice.

Bristow Helicopter being fished out of the Atlantic
Bristow Helicopter being fished out of the Atlantic

Director General of NCAA, Capt. Muhtar Usman, who read the suspension notice said that the suspension will enable the authority carry out a full scale audit on Bristow’s operations with particular emphasis on its Sikorsky S-76C++ type.

Usman said the regulatory body had weighed all the variables and considered it expedient to suspend the airline operations expressing that it was a global standard practice.

“The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has therefore decided to suspend the operation of the Bristow Helicopters Limited’s Sikorsky S-76C++ type till further notice. This suspension will enable the authority carry out a full scale audit on its operations with particular emphasis on its Sikorsky S-76C++ type.” he said

He said, “I must also mention that this suspension of operations for the impending wholesale audit is not a vote of no confidence on the airline. It is to ascertain the adequacy and propriety of the operating aircraft type. This is not new in the industry; it is one of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) all over the world.”

The NCAA further said that the decisions were without prejudice to the investigations being conducted by the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), adding that it would serve to assist in the entire process as the regulators will fully support AIB in the investigation.

In August 12, 2015 a Bristow Helicopter crashed in a lagoon at Oworonshoki area of Lagos State which claimed the lives of six of the twelve passengers including crew on board.

The helicopter with registration number 5N-5BDG-760540 enroute one of the nation’s oil rigs was scheduled to land in Lagos at 15.35pm

However, as recent history suggests, that was not the first time the Helicopter service has had incidents and accidents as there is a catalogue of incidents and accidents to Bristow’s name going back to 2007.

Investigation shows that since 2007 Bristow has had at least ten aircraft incidents and accidents and they are as follows, 5N-BIQ, August 2007, 5N-BKJ, Nov 2009: 5NBGS&5N-BDD collision Dec 2009, 5N -BFU, April 2010, 5N-BMM July 2011: 5N-BOA , Feb 2013, including the last two earlier mentioned.

Bristow Helicopters
Bristow Helicopters

In 2007, a Bristow Bell 412EP with registration 5N-BIQ-35385 took off from the Eket-Qua Ibom Terminal Airfield, the flight was that no such flight was scheduled or requested, the Bristow line training captain, Cleighton Brown boarded the aircraft 5N–BIQ Bell 412EP at 07:30hrs without the co-pilot. He started the aircraft engines rapidly, made a radio call at 07:32hrs for a “local flight”, and lifted rapidly at 07:35hrs.

He made two fast fly passes over the airfield and on the third fly pass the aircraft descended steeply over the west of the airfield at a high speed impacting the ground at 07:39hrs.

The Pilot died of injuries shortly after being rescued from the wreckage. The helicopter was barely two years old as at the time it crashed, having been manufactured in September 2005.

In July 14, 2011, a Bristow Helicopters aircraft with registration 5N-BMM crashed at Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA) barely four years after the 2007 crash in Eket.

AIB in its report on the crash revealed that the two pilots in the cockpit were captains and were paired despite the fact that the airline had no pairing policy.

AIB, who  made this known in its final report of the Bristow Helicopter crash in 2011 on its website early this year, added that Bristow Helicopter used its Operations Manual Part A and C that were not approved by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority(NCAA), the regulatory body.

“Bristow does not have a policy on pairing or crew roaster, however, two pilots of same age bracket 56 and 60 years were paired/rostered,” AIB had stated.

Besides, the accident investigation body stated that the two pilots who flew the aircraft before the crash were relatively new on the aircraft and that the Pilot Flying (PF) and Pilot Monitoring (PM) had total hours on type of 684 and 612 respectively.

Same year, an AS-332L Super Puma (5N-BKJ) belonging to Bristow Nigeria has ditched into the sea off the coast of Nigeria on Friday, 11 December 2009. It was only a few hundred meters from its destination, a seismic research vessel. No one was hurt and the helicopter has been recovered.

These incidents and accidents, according to former Airport Commandant and member of the Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojikutu, involved ten aircraft from one operator.

He questioned how the NCAA would explain these to the public when safety recommendations were made for each accident report?

He said,” We’re there no considerations to conduct surveys instead of audits on the operator. These incessant accidents need special surveys on the operations, maintenance and crew licensing of the operator and not audit. To do these, Bristow operations may have to be shut down otherwise, NCAA and the operator will have a lot of explanations to make when other stakeholders and the public get to know about this.”

In a chat however with Nigerian Flight Deck, the Director of Air Worthiness and Safety Standards (DAWSS), Engineer Benedict Adeyelika told our correspondent that the NCAA had just completed an audit on Bristow two weeks before and that this new incident has made it pertinent for the CAA to go back and do more audit.

The DAWS also said what happened in this case was not an accident not because there was no loss of life but because the pilot had the aircraft in total control and did not lose it as she ditched the aircraft into the Atlantic when she noticed the technical fault.

“In truth, it was not a crash. The aircraft was ditched into the Atlantic, the pilot was experienced enough to do that. At mo time did she lose control of the aircraft, she noticed the technical problem and made a decision to ditch and even if it is not water she would have landed the helicopter perfectly. She did what we (regulators) have always advised them to do, she could have decided to continue for another 75 nautical miles but she chose right and it was not a crash per se.”

“It’s just like air return when a pilot is about to take off and they notice anything wrong the pilot can abort the flight and that is part of regulation. It doesn’t mean it’s a serious problem, but why take the chance? We have always asked pilots not to assume they are supermen, no one is a superhero and so if the laid down procedures are followed everything will be okay. She (The pilot) did an incredible job and should be commended, “he said

About anthony omoh

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I am a Journalist with a passion for developmental stories and nigerianflightdeck.com was born out of passion for reporting the travel, business and aviation sub-sector. This site is an expression of my ideals and creativity as a reporter and my discretion as a publisher. I am extremely content doing this and I am sure when you read my stories you'd understand that I touch people and that's why

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