Eurocopter pitches Super Puma for local offshore flights

Helicopter giant Eurocopter flew its flagship Super Puma helicopter over St. John's Wednesday, in a bid to grab the lucrative job of ferrying oil workers to offshore installations.

30-minute run-dry capability key in French company's bid to get offshore contract

Eurocopter is looking for Canadian offshore oil business, reports Vik Adhopia 2:31

Helicopter giant Eurocopter flew its flagship Super Puma helicopter over St. John's Wednesday, in a bid to grab the lucrative job of ferrying oil workers to offshore installations.

The Super Puma EC225 is a $29-million state-of-the-art aircraft, which its manufacturer says is more suitable than the Sikorsky S-92 that Cougar Helicopters currently uses.

"It's a platform that has been designed for the offshore," Eurocopter executive Guillaume Leprince told CBC News.

Eurocopter executive Guillaume Leprince says the Super Puma is specifically designed for offshore work. (CBC)
​Eurocopter is hoping to persuade oil executives that its aircraft is a superior choice to the Sikorsky. For instance, passengers do not have to sit next to the auxiliary fuel tank.

The more critical difference, and one that resonates in the wake of the Cougar Flight 491 crash in March 2009 that killed 17 people, is that investigators found that the helicopter crashed after a sudden loss of oil pressure in the gearbox.

"The EC 225 has certification  ... for a run-dry capability of 30 minutes, and we have even been able to show the capability of over 50 minutes," Leprince said.

The Sikorsky in the Cougar 491 crash was able to fly for just 11 minutes after the loss of oil pressure.

The Super Puma itself, though, has had problems. In 2012, for instance, Super Pumas were forced to ditch in the North Sea on two occasions. No one was killed in either incident, but all of the aircraft were temporarily grounded during investigations that indicated the problem was connected to cracks in the gearbox.

Cougar not commenting

Cougar is not commenting on whether Super Pumas may be in the company's future in Newfoundland and Labrador, although it has flown them here in the past, and its parent company uses them in other locations.

The decision on which aircraft will be used will ultimately rest with ExxonMobil, a key player in Newfoundland and Labrador's oil industry, and its partners, Husky Energy and Suncor. 

Eurocopter believes its Super Puma EC225 is the best choice for flights between St. John's and offshore installations like the Hibernia platform. (CBC)
Lana Payne, the Atlantic director of Unifor, the trade union formed through the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers, said she likes the 30-minute run-dry capability.

"Clearly experts have said [that] is necessary for offshore transport," she said.

"Whether or not this is a better helicopter than we have, I don't know."

Even so, the 30-minute run-dry period is not mandatory for helicopters travelling to the Hibernia platform and other oil installations off Newfoundland's east coast.

Payne said that is more important than which company gets the contract.

"We should not be looking for the bare minimum for regulatory standards.  We should be looking to exceed them, always," she said.

ExxonMobil, in a statement, said that it would be inappropriate to discuss the details of any proposals that it has received.

With files from Vik Adhopia and Peter Cowan


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