Helicopter flight simulator to train offshore rig pilots in Newfoundland

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Newfoundland and Labrador is to get a new state-of-the-art helicopter training and research centre. The project will be financed by oil company Hibernia Management and Development Company (HMDC) and the province’s Research and Development Corporation (RDC). The centre will be developed and operated by CAE, the Canadian aviation training provider. It will be the first helicopter simulator to be operated in Newfoundland and Labrador. The announced cost of the centre, to be built at Mount Pearl, is $16.3 million, with $13 million coming from Hibernia.

The vice president of CAE said that the helicopter flight simulator will create conditions that mimic and are unique to Newfoundland’s offshore. A government statement said that the simulator will provide “unprecedented” realism for offshore weather conditions. It will be the first approved helicopter simulator with night vision capability in Canada.

Newfoundland has had two major oil-related helicopter disasters in recent years, one in 1985 in which six people were killed, the second in 2009, which killed seventeen. A memorial to the twenty-six victims was unveiled just last September in St. John’s. The CEO of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), the oil industry regulator for the province, said that the monument was a reminder of the importance of offshore worker safety “and safe helicopter travel in particular.” It was a Cougar helicopter ferrying workers to and from a Hibernia offshore rig that crashed into the sea in March 2009. The lone survivor of that crash has said his training as a sailor probably helped him survive as the cabin filled with freezing water.

A number of safety improvements were initiated after the inquiry into the Cougar disaster, including a new simulator for helicopter underwater egress training and improvements in the transportation suits that helicopter passengers must wear.

In announcing the new flight training centre, the emphasis was on research and safety. The CAE centre will create jobs, build local expertise and support local research, said the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development. A spokesperson for RDC echoed that, adding that the centre would be a platform for testing new products and services “that further enhance safety.”

Cougar Helicopters will train its pilots at the centre and is reported to be actively involved in research and development projects. The new centre is scheduled to be operational by early 2016.

CAE also announced on May 27 that its new Chinook helicopter simulators have completed testing and are ready for use by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The simulators are being used for pilot training at a new “world-class” training facility at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. CAE has a twenty-year contract to provide flight training for Chinook air crews.

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