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NTSB Issues Recommendations for Gulf Helo Ops: Carry PLBs

The NTSB has issued a Safety Recommendation as the result investigating a number of ditchings in the Gulf of Mexico by offshore oil crew helicopter services. Click here to read the letter to the FAA. There were two recommendations, one to do with mounting life rafts externally so they are more likely to be available, the other to do with PLBs:

Require that all offshore helicopter operators in the Gulf of Mexico provide their flight crews with personal flotation devices equipped with a waterproof, globalpositioning-system-enabled 406 megahertz personal locator beacon, as well as one other signaling device, such as a signaling mirror or a strobe light. (A-07-88)

The odds that the FAA will actually require the use of PLBs is infinitesimally small. But, with the NTSB recommendation now officially on the record, it does raise potentially serious liability issues for operators who do not follow the recommendation when it is not a particularly significant burden to do so. This is even more the case since some operators are already doing so. As a result, even without an FAA mandate, it may well prove to be effective at persuading more operators to equip their pax and crew with better survival gear including PLBs.

The NTSB recommendation also provides added support for the advantages that GPS provides for PLBs, quicker and more accurate location. They could have simply left it at PLBs, but they explicitly recommended GPS-equipped PLBs. While they were at it, they also recognized that despite all the advantages that a PLB provides, there’s still a place for the most basic signaling gear as well.

I don’t understand why the NTSB limited their recommendation to just Gulf operations.  The findings are as relevant for any such operations over water.

This NTSB recommendation also serves as another reminder to all pilots that these 406 MHz PLBs are a very effective tool by which to get yourself rescued in a timely manner. In many cases it could be the difference between rescue and simply recovery of your body.