--U.K. union says Bond Aviation should ground fleet after helicopter forced to ditch in sea
--Union says concerns have been raised over engine problems on Eurocopter Super Pumas
--Helicopter was ferrying oil and gas workers to ConocoPhillips-leased drilling rigs
(Adds detail on identity of workers in penultimate paragraph.)
By Alexis Flynn
The U.K.'s main offshore workers' union has called for all helicopters operated by Bond Aviation to be grounded pending an investigation into why an aircraft was forced to ditch into the North Sea earlier Thursday, and whether similar issues are affecting the rest of the fleet.
"While we are delighted that everyone on board is safe, there are obvious concerns when another Bond helicopter lands in the water," said RMT OILC regional organizer Jake Molloy.
Thursday's incident is the latest to affect a Eurocopter helicopter in the North Sea. Sixteen people died when a Bond Super Puma plunged into the sea while carrying men from BP PLC's (BP, BP.LN) Miller platform to Aberdeen in April 2009. Earlier that year, 18 people survived after a Bond helicopter ditched in the North Sea.
Molloy said he had heard anecdotal reports from union members of helicopter problems that had occurred in recent weeks that he said hadn't been reported to the Helicopter Safety Steering Group, which is part of the offshore workgroup comprising representatives from industry and the oil and gas workforce.
His concerns were echoed by fellow union Unite.
"Unite the Union is concerned that there have been problems with helicopter engines recently that haven't been reported to the Helicopter Steering Group," the union said in a statement. "Obviously the reason for the ditching has to be investigated, but Unite is calling for an urgent meeting of the Helicopter Steering Group to be convened."
Bond Aviation said there were no plans to ground its fleet of Eurocopters, which are manufactured by a unit of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company NV (EAD.FR, EADSY).
"Right now, our priority is our passengers and pilots," said a Bond spokesman. "Of course, we will checking with the helicopter manufacturer to better understand what has happened," adding that the company implemented a strict maintenance program on its aircraft.
He wasn't immediately able to confirm whether any engine incidents had occurred in recent weeks.
The helicopter that ditched Thursday had been ferrying workers to drilling rigs leased by ConocoPhillips (>> ConocoPhillips) on the Jasmine field.
The passengers were all third-party contractors and not ConocoPhillips employees, a ConocoPhillips spokesman said. The workers were bound for the Ensco 102 jack-up rig, owned by Ensco PLC (ESV), and the Maersk Resilient jack-up rig.
All 16 people onboard the helicopter are safe and accounted for, Grampian Police and the Coastguard have confirmed. A major rescue operation was launched after the aircraft, a Eurocopter EC225, descended into the sea around 25 miles off Aberdeen shortly after midday.
-By Alexis Flynn, Dow Jones Newswires; +44 207 842 9471; firstname.lastname@example.org