The Federal Aviation Administration has approved a new
system for use with Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.'s helicopters that will help pilots
flying the aircraft to off-shore oil rigs to focus on what they see in front of
them and be less pre-occupied with entering flight data into onboard systems.
Sikorsky developed the new "Rig Approach" system with PHI Inc., a Louisiana-based company whose services include flying workers and equipment out to off-shore rigs.
FAA approval was needed before Sikorsky could begin offering the new system as a retro-fitted option on S-92 helicopters now in service.
"This system provides the crews with technology that is easy to use, makes sense and reduces the current workload from 17 pilot-initiated items to only seven," Paul Perkins, PHI's chief pilot, said in a statement. "We flew more than 19,000 hours of IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) Operations last year and will increase that number in 2013. The Rig Approach will play a huge role in our S-92 IFR operations by providing the crew with automation that reduces the workload at critical times."
Marianne Heffernan, a Sikorsky spokeswoman, said the genesis of the "Rig Approach" system can be traced to 2007 when a pilot from PHI approached one from Sikorsky about collaborating to develop a safer method of approaching oil platforms and rigs.
"These helicopters are being required to go further and further offshore with each passing year," said Heffernan.
Sikorsky did the bulk of its certification flight testing in 2011 and then spent the past year working with the FAA, leading up to the agency's certification review in February, Heffernan said.
The Stratford-based helicopter company, which is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. in Hartford, was notified of the FAA's approval of the system this week, she said.
Dan Hunter, Sikorsky's commercial programs director, said in a statement the new system "takes the guesswork out of the equation when a pilot is flying out to an oil platform."
Offshore oil operators fly the S-92 for an average of 90-to-110 hours per month in often challenging environments, according to Sikorsky officials.
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