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Safe landing

Published:  01 April, 2014

Orga BV recently launched its eagerly awaited helideck touchdown/positioning marking and heliport identification marking lighting system. ODEE spoke with the company’s Product Group Manager, Daniel Powell, about the rationale behind the system’s design, the benefits it affords the offshore industry and the background behind Orga’s collaboration work with the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

The new system, Circle-H, is claimed to deliver a step change in helicopter safety on UK offshore helidecks and has been widely welcomed by the helicopter pilots. Orga’s system, designed in conjunction with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA), allows for quick installation and recognises the importance of tailoring the lighting system to the requirements of individual deck designs.

Daniel Powell, Orga's Product Group Manager, put the need for this type of lighting in context. “When you approach an offshore platform in a helicopter at night, maybe in the rain or in other types of adverse weather conditions, you need to find out where the helideck is quickly and with no hesitation,” he explained. “This was a key requirement that was brought up in the UK CAA report CAP 1077.”

The background

Orga became involved with the design project after UK CAA had produced the draft specification for the circle and ‘H’ system. Powell picked up the story: “Back in 1995 UK CAA issued a survey to pilots that operate in the UK continental shelf. The survey comprised questions around the issue of what should be done to improve the effectiveness and safety of offshore helidecks, and lighting was one of the key areas that was raised. At that time, and in many instances to the present day, floodlighting was in common use. However, with this type of lighting there were considered to be two main issues; only very low level floodlighting – a maximum height of 250 mm –was allowed. Therefore, trying to throw the light from outside the helideck into the inner spaces of the landing area could prove very difficult. This is because you have to try to push a low beam angle 12m or 15m – depending on the size of the deck – across into the centre. This often resulted in what has been described in various civil aviation papers as the ‘black hole’ affect.”

And because of the effects of the reflective paint used on many decks, this, together with the low-level floodlighting, would often result in glare that bounced off the deck and into the pilot’s line of sight, Powell also pointed out. He added that this glare effect could therefore prove to be highly dangerous, and so was a big issue surrounding of the safety of the helicopter crew, as well as potentially the personnel on the deck if the helicopter landed in the wrong place as a result.

Easily recognisable

With these constraints in mind, Orga set about designing a new helideck lighting system that could be easily recognised by the pilot during approach, provided a wide area of clear light within the landing zone and one that could be easily adapted to the particular needs of each offshore platform and one that could be easily controlled, either on the platform by the HLO (helicopter landing officer), automatically by photocell or remotely via the platform communication systems.

After the design was completed and the prototype systems were built, Circle-H was then tested with over 5000 test landings on Centrica's CPC-1 platform in Morecambe Bay, starting in October 2012. During the tests the system proved to be so robust and effective in improving the visual cueing for helicopter approaches and landings offshore, that the UK CAA has incorporated the Circle-H helideck lighting configuration in its internationally acknowledged guidance on standards, CAP 437.

Dave Howson, the research project manager within the UK CAA’s Safety and Airspace Regulation Group responsible for its helicopter safety research programme, explained that, prior to Orga’s involvement, UK CAA was struggling a little to produce equipment that would withstand the extreme offshore conditions. “Orga contributed significantly to the detail of the specification, making sure that we had dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s,” he said.

Powell explained that the UK CAA wants between 500 and 600 Circle-H retrofit installations on offshore platforms in the UK continental shelf by March 2018. And this is just work to upgrade existing lighting systems, not new-builds, so for the next few years we will be busy replacing the old floodlight systems with Circle-H.” He reflected that this might sound a straightforward task, but stressed that to hit the March 2018 deadline, companies with a large number of helidecks need to act sooner rather than later.

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