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Offshore Helicopter Safety — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:43 pm on 6th February 2019.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport) 3:43 pm, 6th February 2019

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I cannot speak about the frequency of the group’s meetings, but anyone who is scrutinising this debate with the proper level of attention, as I am sure the group will be doing, will take his remarks alone as a good kick in the pants. If those meetings have been insufficiently frequent, I encourage the group to have more; I support what he has said.

Let me say a few more things, and then I will come to hon. Members’ interventions. A number of hon. Members referred to the Super Puma helicopter, and I absolutely recognise the concerns of workers who have seen colleagues perish in that aircraft. It is important to recall that after the Norwegian accident, both EASA and the CAA placed operating restrictions on the Super Puma. When EASA cleared the helicopters to serve in October 2016, the UK and Norwegian CAAs maintained their operating restrictions to make certain the aircraft were safe to fly. They did not operate in a herd-like way. They played off each other, scrutinised each other and interrogated each other, and they did not reach the same conclusion. In doing so, they worked with, among others, representatives from Unite, the RMT and the British Airline Pilots Association. They lifted operating restrictions in July 2017 only after significant modifications were made to the aircraft and training was undertaken.

The regulators clearly did not take that decision lightly; they did so only after they were confident that the aircraft could meet stringent standards and were fit to fly. Of course, the CAA continues to work with a range of stakeholders, including unions, to provide the assurances that are publicly needed. The regulators are content, subject to the additional checks that I have described, for the aircraft to re-enter service, but the decision rests with operators and their customers. To date, none has come forward.

I absolutely respect the initiative and the viewpoint of the hon. Member for Stockton North, who seeks a public inquiry. He has made similar representations to the aviation Minister. We take these matters extremely seriously and we have given the question careful consideration, but we are not yet persuaded that that is the right thing to do. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was very wise in pointing to the potential conflicts of jurisdiction that already exist, and he said that he was concerned about the delays and lack of closure for the families.