Referring to Pawan Hans helicopters as “flying coffins”, employees of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) have expressed their fears about flying to and from offshore sites on board the state-owned helicopter service. In a letter to the top ONGC management, the Petroleum Employees Union (PEU) has sought enhanced safety measures.
The letter was written to ONGC Chairman and Managing Director, Shashi Shanker on February 17, more than a month after five senior ONGC officials and two Pawan Hans pilots died after a Dauphin N3 helicopter crashed off the Mumbai coast. The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) has initiated an inquiry to ascertain the cause of the accident.
Nitin Khanvilkar, General Secretary of the PEU, which represents nearly 2500 of the 4500 employees of the western offshore unit (Mumbai) of the Maharatna oil firm, wrote to Shanker suggesting that a high-level internal committee be appointed to get “first hand” information on safety conditions for ONGC staffers working off shore.
“After occurrence of the tragedy, every crew member performing offshore duty and their family members are under tremendous pressure regarding safety of their son/husband/father on offshore duty,” said the letter, with the subject line: “Flying Coffins”. ONGC makes at least 15 trips on a daily basis on board Pawan Hans helicopters. The company also uses the services of two other helicopter companies.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Khanvilkar said the employees were not against Pawan Hans, but wanted safety measures enhanced. “We are fighting for the safety and security of our employees. In the end, we suffer the loss, as we have lost our dear colleagues in the crash… It could have been one of us in the chopper that crashed,” he said.
The Indian Express on January 27 had reported that a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) investigation into 20 of 25 Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL) accidents since 1988 had indicted the PHHL management for violation of safety norms and had suggested that the accidents were more due to “organisational lapses than technical reasons”.
ONGC uses seven helicopters owned by Pawan Hans, all of the Dauphin make and are between five and seven years old.
The PEU letter also cited a 2017 audit conducted by the DGCA at the Pawan Hans Andaman and Nicobar Islands base that reportedly found engineering and maintenance deficiencies in the maintenance schedule and problems with the helicopter engines.
Responding to the letter, a senior ONGC official said, “We are specifically asking for improvements in the maintenance schedules of the helicopters and a strict check on their equipment.”
According to an official ONGC statement, the senior management has visited off shore installations to review safety operations and to boost morale of the employees. “We have taken measures to ensure safety and security of the employees working offshore. In meetings between the employees and Director, Off Shore, the concerns of employees were addressed,” the official statement said.
Pawn Hans declined comment on the PEU letter. “It is a matter between ONGC management and their employees. We would not like to comment,” said M Sreekumar, general manager, western region, Pawan Hans.