Equinor said March 1 it had resumed helicopter flights on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) following a Feb. 28 training accident that killed one and injured five.

The company also announced it had signed contracts with Bell and Leonardo for 15 new helicopters for passenger traffic on the NCS. Equinor said contract negotiations for the helicopters had wrapped up before the Feb. 28 accident and that it was releasing the information about the contracts on March 1 for unspecified market reasons.

Halting and resuming flights

A woman in her 60s died and the hospital treating the survivors provided a social media update that one was in critical condition on Feb. 29, one was severely injured and three suffered lighter injuries, Reuters reported.

The Sikorsky S-92 helicopter owned by Bristow Group was carrying six passengers when it crashed in the Oseberg area of the Norwegian North Sea while on a training mission for Equinor’s search and rescue service.

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, Equinor said it was temporarily halting all regular helicopter flights on the NCS out of consideration for those affected by the accident and to get an overview of the situation. The cause of the accident has not been reported at the time of this writing, and an investigation is ongoing.

Norway’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it was considering grounding the S-92A and that in addition to Equinor, other companies, including Aker BP and ConocoPhillips had halted all helicopter traffic offshore Norway, Reuters reported.

Equinor said a decision to resume flights required coordination between the aviation authorities, helicopter operators, trade unions and NCS operating companies. Based on this work, all the companies, coordinated through Offshore Norge, have decided to resume their flights.

Equinor said following consultation with the CAA it had decided to resume flight with Sikorsky S-92 helicopters to the installations on the NCS.

“Based on dialogue with the Civil Aviation Authority, there are no indications that helicopter safety on the NCS is reduced,” Kjetil Hove, Equinor’s executive vice president for Exploration & Production Norway, said in a press release.

Equinor said it used the pause in flights to take care of relatives, review the situation, and make the necessary clarifications with the authorities and flight safety specialists to ensure that the flights can be resumed safely. The search and rescue service has been operational throughout the period, Equinor added.

Building up helicopter fleet

Equinor will take delivery of the first two of five Leonardo AW189 helicopters in the first quarter of 2025 with the other three slated for delivery in 2026. Bell will also deliver four Bell 525 helicopters in 2026 with six more following from 2027 to 2030.

Leonardo will deliver the first two AW189 helicopters in the first quarter of 2025. (Source: Leonardo)

Hove said the Bell 525 and Leonardo AW189 will supplement the use of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopters for operations on the NCS.

“By increasing from one to three helicopter models on the NCS we get more flexibility and regularity,” Hove said in a press release.

Since 2016, Equinor has only used Sikorsky S-92, replacing EC225, for personnel transport and search and rescue services on the NCS. The operator transports 160,000 offshore employees to and from the NCS each year, for more than 24,000 annual flight hours. There are about 16,000 landings per year on Equinor-operated installations on the NCS each year.

Operators Bristow and CHC have 46 Sikorsky S-92 helicopters on the NCS, of which 24 are under contract with Equinor. The helicopters are mainly used for transport services, but also for search and rescue.

On 25 January 2024, Equinor signed a contract with Lufttransport RW AS to operate two new Leonardo AW 139 search and rescue helicopters for the Troll and Oseberg areas. They will be ready for operation in early 2026.