Helicopter air ambulances grounded across Britain over safety fears
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Wednesday 09 May 2012
Helicopter air ambulances were grounded across Britain yesterday over fears the aircraft could be unsafe.
The main operator supplying helicopters to air ambulance associations covering England, Scotland and Wales withdrew all 22 of its helicopters after cracks appeared in a rotor hub.
Bond Air Services, which discovered the defect on a helicopter operating in Scotland, said it was acting to protect the safety of crew and passengers. The company supplies helicopters to over half the air ambulance associations in Britain.
Eurocopter which makes the aircraft said the model affected - the EC 135 - was fit to fly if daily checks were made.
The defect was discovered last month and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ordered daily safety inspections on the EC 135 while it was being investigated.
On Sunday, an additional safety notice was issued by Eurocopter following further reports of cracks affecting several helicopters, according to a Bond spokesperson. This ordered additional maintenance procedures.
“Eurocopter wanted a visual inspection before and after every flight. Bond weren’t satisfied. They felt safety would be compromised. Until Eurocopter gets their head round what went wrong and decides what the solution is, Bond felt they had to ground the aircraft,” the spokesman said.
Last month, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ordered daily safety inspections on the EC 135 while the possible fault was being investigated but stopped short of ordering the aircraft to be grounded.
The Bond spokesman said: “That is up to them (EASA). They are not the one’s holding responsibility for our customers.”
A spokesperson for Eurocopter said: “Eurocopter is performing all necessary investigations and is following this matter with the highest priority. The EC135 has an excellent safety record. The world fleet (more than 1000 aircraft) has accumulated more than 2.3 million flight hours to date and with more than 270 customers in 58 countries the EC135 is the preferred choice of numerous operators globally.”
Scottish Air Ambulance, which uses two EC 135s based in Glasgow and Inverness, told the BBC any patient requiring transfer by air would be taken by coastguard and military helicopters, or SAS fixed-wing aircraft.
A spokeswoman for the North West Air Ambulance, which also has two EC 135s, said a replacement aircraft had been found and was currently operating.
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