Eurocopter believes it has come up with an interim solution to the problem afflicting its troubled EC225 helicopter that could see the type return to unrestricted flight by the third quarter at the latest.
The EC225 has effectively been grounded in the North Sea region since the October ditching of a CHC Scotia-operated Super Puma. This was the second incident in 2012 involving the twin-engined type in which the its bevel gear vertical shaft catastrophically failed.
Lutz Bertling, the airframer's outgoing chief executive, who will leave Eurocopter on 1 May, says it is close to fully resolving the issue. "It is more about working with the regulators, the operators, the oil companies and the passengers to restart flying," he says.
Bertling, addressing reporters at an event in Marignane, expressed his disappointment that the issue with the EC225 will not be fixed prior to his departure. Nonetheless, he is happy with the progress that has been made. "It is different if you leave when there is a crisis that has not been fully understood, but we have a clear understanding of the root cause and the solutions," he says.
The airframer is awaiting external validation of its findings into the cracking issue, which it believes were caused by a combination of corrosion, residual stress from the manufacturing process and fatigue.
Its interim fix, described by Bertling as the introduction of "additional safety barriers", is thought to refer to a modification of the type's vibration monitoring system and the installation of warning lights in the cockpit to indicate the propagation of a crack in the vertical shaft.
EASA will have to certificate the company's proposed changes before any agreement is reached with the Norwegian or UK civil aviation regulators to rescind their operating restrictions on the EC225.
"We are currently talking about this with the regulator," he says. Assuming good progress, it will return to flight "not later than the third quarter", says Bertling.
In the longer term, Eurocopter is proposing to redesign the faulty component, although Bertling says it will not be a "very significant change".
The whole saga has been the most challenging issue he has faced during his six-and-a-half-year tenure at Eurocopter, says Bertling.
"In the history of the company we have never had a technical issue that was impacting our customers and their customers and passengers like the EC225 problem," he says.