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    North Sea safety upgrade takes flight tracking technology offshore

    News // April 29, 2005
    The risk of "near misses" involving helicopters traveling offshore to oil and gas installations and other aircraft, including the military, will be substantially reduced from next summer on completion of a 5 million upgrade to the North Sea's communications and flight surveillance system.At present, offshore flights are tracked by pilots giving regular position reports to Aberdeen Air Traffic Control. This system is to be replaced by new technology, being used offshore for the first time, which will pinpoint more accurately the positionand altitude of all traffic in UK offshore airspace.The system, known as "multilateration", uses the transponders of offshore helicopters, and other aircraft, along with new transmitter/receiver units being installed on 16 oil and gas platforms, to provide air traffic control with a virtual radar plot ofhelicopter positions, down to 500 ft above sea level or below.Radio communications with helicopters flying over the North Sea will also be improved. Radio contact with pilots is maintained via VHF "rebroadcast" units strategically located on a number of oil and gas platforms to extend the coverage provided by AirTraffic Control, which is limited to around 80 miles from the coast. Existing rebroadcast radio coverage will now be upgraded and extended to include offshore locations to the west of Shetland and a larger area of the Southern North Sea."The new system should be fully operational from late summer next year," says Chris Allen, director for health, safety, social and environment at the UK Offshore Operators Association (UKOOA), the representative body for UK oil and gas producers. "The improvements will substantially enhance the safety of offshore helicopter flights over the UK continental shelf and would also assist in pinpointing helicopter locations in the event of an emergency."The cost of installing and operating the new system will be borne by the offshore oil and gas industry, through payment of a charge which is levied on each offshore helicopter flight.

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