PLC warned that an extended grounding of supply helicopters could have a "major impact" on energy operations in the North Sea, as producers attempted to find alternative aircraft and ships to ferry crew and equipment.
More than half the helicopter fleet used to supply oil and gas platforms in British North Sea waters remained grounded Tuesday as operators imposed a voluntary freeze on using Super Puma helicopters, following a fatal crash on Friday. U.K. air-safety authorities continued to investigate the accident off the Shetland Islands coast, which claimed the lives of four oil workers.
Super Pumas, which are made by the Eurocopter unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., EADSY +0.33% continued to fly to platforms in Norway and Australia. EADS shares closed at €43.78 ($58.53) in Paris on Tuesday, down 1.6%.
Offshore operators plan to share the remaining helicopter fleet and suspend routine work. Industry group Oil & Gas UK said the suspension would cause delays and flight backlogs, and could have adverse effects on offshore activities in the North Sea, a major oil-producing region. The area is home to Brent crude oil, the global pricing benchmark.
BP, one of the North Sea's largest operators, said there was no immediate risk to oil production from its fields, which pump 100,000 barrels of oil a day from U.K. fields. But a spokesman said a prolonged suspension of the workhorse Super Pumas could have a "major impact" on offshore activity.
The U.K. company said it was looking to use more Sikorsky S-92 helicopters to support its business in the region.
France's Total SA FP.FR -1.40% said it had chartered four ships to help transport workforce to and from offshore installations.
Royal Dutch Shell RDSA.LN -1.37% PLC said it didn't anticipate significant disruption to its operations as it primarily uses Sikorsky helicopters in the North Sea. Sikorsky is a unit of United Technologies Corp. UTX -0.36%
Brent-crude prices are unlikely to be affected as long as difficulties getting workers to platforms don't affect North Sea productivity, oil traders said. More than 56,000 staff worked offshore in the U.K. section of the North Sea last year. Brent's price rose $3.2% Tuesday, pushed by tensions in Syria to the benchmark's biggest gain since October.
The Super Puma grounding comes amid a global shortage of helicopter capacity, driven by expansion in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Brazil and West Africa.
Friday's crash involved an AS332 L2 Super Puma operated by the Scotland-based arm of CHC Helicopter Canada Inc.
Bristow Group Inc., BRS -1.29% among the biggest helicopter operators, said it had suspended flying nine of its 20 AS332 Super Pumas: seven in the U.K and two in Nigeria. The Texas-based company said it was too early to tell whether the crash probe would affect the return to service of Bristow's EC225 Super Pumas.
The EC225 was banned by regulators from flying over water for almost 10 months after two ditched in the North Sea last year. The ban was lifted in July. Bristow, which has 20 EC225s, had planned to return the model to service in the fourth quarter.
CHC already has resumed service with some EC225s.
Eurocopter said the helicopter that crashed Friday was equipped with a different gearbox than the one installed on the EC225. Eurocopter Chief Executive Guillaume Faury arrived in Aberdeen, the U.K.'s oil capital, to coordinate the company's response to the crash.
The union representing U.K. pilots said "the confidence of its members in the Super Puma family of aircraft remains unchanged."
CHC and the Bond Offshore Helicopters unit of Spain's Avincis Group SA also continued voluntarily to suspend all U.K. Super Puma operations. That followed a recommendation made Saturday by the Helicopter Safety Steering Group, which represents producers, contractors, unions and operators.
The steering group is expected to meet Wednesday, and the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch in the next few days is expected to publish preliminary findings from its probe into Friday's accident.