WORK to install new gear shafts to Super Puma EC225 helicopters will begin later this year as part of measures to improve safety.

The fleet of aircraft was suspended temporarily in 2012 following two ditchings in the North Sea, which were linked to failures in the gear shaft.

Manufacturer Airbus said a redesigned gear shaft had been certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), enabling it to be produced and installed on all existing EC225 helicopters. Production is expected to start in the second half of this year and the latest design will also be installed on new aircraft being manufactured.

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Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus Helicopters' Executive Vice President - Engineering, said: "Airbus Helicopters has put a very high priority on developing this new shaft for the EC225. EASA's certification is a major milestone towards getting our customers flying with the final solution."

In May 2012, 14 people on board a Super Puma were rescued when the helicopter came down off the coast of Aberdeen during a flight to an oil rig.

In October that year, 19 people were rescued safely after another Super Puma put down in the sea off Shetland.

An AAIB report into the incident revealed a crack on a gear shaft.