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Petroleum Employees Union (PEU), which claims to represent 2,500 workers of state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), has demanded the company’s management set up an internal committee for inspection of working and safety conditions at its offshore sites.

New Delhi, March 12, 2018: Petroleum Employees Union (PEU), which claims to represent 2,500 workers of state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation ( ONGC), has demanded the company’s management set up an internal committee for inspection of working and safety conditions at its offshore sites.

Five senior ONGC executives and two Pawan Hans pilots had died after a Dauphin N3 helicopter crashed off the Mumbai coast on 13 January. “Last year, an audit carried out by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation ( DGCA) at Pawan Hans, Andaman and Nicobar base showed several engineering and maintenance deficiencies,” PEU General Secretary N A Khanvilkar said in a 17 February letter to ONGC Chairman and Managing Director Shashi Shanker .

The letter, titled Pawan Hans Helicopters - a flying coffin, listed three deficiencies noted in the DGCA audit -- maintenance carried out to keep the aircraft safe and air-worthy by Quality Manager is not up to the mark; Safran engines of Pawan Hans had a problem of seizure especially during the start-up; and medical fitness of pilots who are mostly over 50 years of age.

A union spokesperson shared a detailed note with ETEnergyworld that pointed at the “disastrous safety record” of Pawan Hans helicopters including 67 deaths in 21 crashes since 1990; and how Dauphins have been involved in a majority of incidents in the past decade. The note also alleges safety-related lapses and questions the competence of Pawan Hans pilots and engineers.

The centre holds 51 per cent stake in Pawan Hans while ONGC holds 49 per cent in the country’s flagship helicopter service provider of the government. An email sent to ONGC’s spokesperson seeking comments -- on whether the firm will look at PEU’s demand for setting up an internal committee and the union’s allegations -- remained unanswered.

Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan had, in response to a question asked in Parliament on the issue on Wednesday, said ONGC has strengthened its operational and safety systems and processes based on recommendations of earlier inquiry reports in addition to statutory compliances. “ONGC is also hiring newer vintage helicopters as compared to industry practices. ONGC has engaged an expert team from Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI) on 18 January 2018 to carry out a thorough audit of all helicopter operators of ONGC and to submit a report on maintenance practices, operational procedures and safety issues,” he said.

Pradhan added that ONGC has already conducted a meeting with helicopter operators to reiterate strict compliance to regulatory requirements and best industry practices in operation and maintenance of the helicopters in offshore.

PEU informed the Western Offshore Unit of ONGC has over 6,000 employees and most of them are posted at offshore installations. The twin engine helicopters of Pawan Hans, Global Vectra & Heligo Charters, operate about 90 sorties a day ferrying ONGC personnel to and within three offshore assets, unmanned platforms and rigs. More than 200 personnel travel through Juhu Helibase to Offshore and the same number of personnel travel back from Offshore to base every day. Pawan Hans currently has 42 aircraft including 32 Dauphins.

The DGCA had found in its probe report that 20 of 25 accidents involving Pawan Hans Helicopters over the last 30 years were caused due to improper maintenance, non-adherence to procedures and non-compliance of safety regulations by the operator, and 91 people were killed in accidents involving Pawan Hans since 1988, according to an Indian Express report of January 2018.
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