SonAir, Africa’s largest oil and gas helicopter operator, has become the first operator to resume passenger transportation flights with the suspended Eurocopter EC225 fleet.
Eurocopter made the announcement on Monday, saying that three flights were performed successfully with two EC225s from Luanda, Angola, to two offshore platforms. This follows the resolution of a gearbox issue.
Based in Angola, SonAir is the aviation division of Sonangol, Angola’s national oil company. Its resumption of EC225 rotations for the oil and gas sector marks a new step in the return-to-service status for the full EC225 fleet worldwide, Eurocopter said.
“The three flights were routine, confirming that the EC225’s service restart is backed by strong safety measures that give confidence to our clients,” said Joao Andrade, SonAir’s Chairman and CEO.
SonAir has a total of 11 EC225s located at its Luanda, Angola operating base, of which nine are dedicated to crew-change missions for offshore oil and gas platforms. SonAir’s Eurocopter fleet of aircraft also includes four AS332 L2 and three AS365 N3 helicopters.
“Eurocopter thanks SonAir and for its confidence in the EC225,” stated Guillaume Faury, President and CEO Eurocopter. “These first flights were possible thanks to a strong collaboration. Eurocopter remains fully committed to supporting this major oil and gas industry service provider in performing its very demanding missions.”
Approximately 80 EC 225s of the 157 EC 225s and military EC 725s were grounded since October 2012 following gearbox failures on two different aircraft, which both ditched into the North Sea. Interim fix kits were approved by European authorities on July 9. All EC 225s will get the kits, while aircraft on the production line will be retrofitted with the modifications.
The EC 225’s problems have hit Eurocopter’s profits, with revenues for the first three months of the year dropping by 13% to €1 billion ($1.3 billion) from €1.2 billion a year earlier. The company’s EBIT dropped by 69% to €20 million compared with €64 million in the first quarter of 2012.
Working on the EC 225 fix also detracted from other helicopter deliveries, but Eurocopter is optimistic that things will pick up once the EC 225 fleet is operational again.
Worldwide, the EC 225 fleet has logged more than 300 000 flight hours.