Helideck safety

Chris Wood, Operations Manager at Safeguard Helidecks considers the critical requirements for the safe use of helicopter landing areas onboard superyachts

The world of maritime aviation has come through the global pandemic and we are now busier than ever. Our services are in demand from shipyards, superyacht designers, owners and captains. One day we can be hopping on a flight to visit yards and give advice on the design of a superyacht’s helidecks and the next day, we’re flying out to superyachts to review their helicopter operations and complete the inspections and certifications.

Chris Wood is an ex-Naval Aviator with 20 years of ship/air integration experience, including 6 years working at Safeguard Helidecks, an Aviation Inspection Body (AIB) authorised by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). But what does that really mean? It means that they have the authority to inspect superyacht helidecks and certify that they meet the regulations and standards required for commercial aviation on board superyachts.

Considering the future for superyacht design Chris and his team like nothing better than to look ahead and consider the future for superyacht aviation. Will there be more demand for duel flying capabilities going forward? Will the time come when there will be a requirement to have an air traffic control function onboard, for when the helidecks are operating concurrently? And what about Tilt Rotor Aircraft – how long is it before we see these aircraft onboard? These are all things that will no doubt be a topic of conversation for future design groups and who knows, we may even see the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) onboard superyachts in the not too distant future!

When not contemplating the future, the team’s focus is very much on their day job which can be broadly split into two areas.

The certification process – design
Our role as an AIB is to ensure that aviation onboard superyachts is taking place in the safest possible manor, but superyacht designs are constantly evolving with many owners now specifying a requirement for multiple helidecks. The safety implications for this are considerable as the possibility of concurrent flying operations from the same vessel throws up numerous hazards that need to be carefully addressed.

We therefore encourage early engagement of our team when a yacht is at the design stage, so that our expertise in deck loading, air flow disruption and helideck location can be fully utilised. This allows for a smooth process in gaining the required helideck certification for the completed yacht. It is important to be aware that a Helicopter Landing Area Technical Certificate (HLATC) covering the design activities will remain valid for as long as the design remains unchanged. But any later design changes would require a new HLATC to be issued.

It is also important to ensure the owner’s needs and requirements have been met fully. In our experience this includes checking that the design team know which helicopter the owner plans to operate on their yacht as the deck loading requirements for a H125 are significantly different to those of a H175. If this is not accounted for then changes may have to be made to the helicopter landing area/s and this in turn can impact the overall aesthetic of the yacht and delay the completion. We are well versed in working with multiple teams to ensure that such pitfalls can be avoided, the completion can be on time and the aviation safety requirements are met.

The certification process – operational
We do our best to be as responsive as possible to our clients and will fly wherever we are required to provide a helideck assessment. Trips to South Africa and Chile are not uncommon. We have great respect for the privacy of our clients and regularly work with a Non-Disclosure Agreement in place.

Once onboard for a Helideck Certification Assessment, we look at a number of critical elements to ensure they meet the required standards. These include: the helideck dimension, layout, obstructions, deck friction levels, landing area markings lighting, and structural considerations.

We also review the fire detection and extinguishing arrangements, the emergency equipment, procedures, and all documentation associated with helicopter operations onboard. Once the criteria for the inspection have been satisfied then a Helicopter Landing Area Inspection Report (HLAIR) and a Helicopter Landing Area Certificate (HLAC) are generated, and a thorough debrief given to the vessel’s crew.

A HLAC covering operations will be valid for 12 months, but it will cease to be valid if there is a change of ownership, the name of the vessel changes, or if there are material changes to the helicopter landing area, aviation facilities or equipment without consultation and approval from an AIB. As a team, Safeguard Helidecks have over 60 years of experience operating helicopters on vessels at sea in the military. Our team comprises of ex-military aircrew, flight deck officers, survival specialists, safety management specialists, engineers and naval architects. We live and breathe maritime aviation and strive to ensure that superyachts can enjoy their helicopter operations in the safest way possible.

For more information call Chris Wood on:
Tel: +44 (0)7779 606589
or visit www.safeguardhelidecks.com