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Imminent General Election & Review of Draft Final Report into Rescue 116 Helicopter Crash May Further Delay "Urgent Reform" of Irish Aviation Regulation - IALPA Pilots' Union

12th January 2020
Rescue 116 pictured over Wicklow in August 2015 Rescue 116 pictured over Wicklow in August 2015 Photo: Greg Clarke/Flickr

The Minister for Transport’s approval of a review of the Air Accident Investigation Unit’s draft final report into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash has been described as “unprecedented” by the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (IALPA) writes Lorna Siggins.

The pilots’ union has expressed concern that the delay in publishing the final Rescue 116 report and an imminent general election may set back “urgent reform” of Irish aviation regulation.

CHC Ireland has declined to comment on whether it sought the review, which is permitted under the Air Navigation (Notification and Investigation of Accidents, Serious Incidents and Incidents) Regulations 2009.

It is the first time in the AAIU’s 25-year history that the review option has been sought before a final report is issued.

The helicopter company employed the four aircrew – pilots Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith – who died when their Sikorsky S-92A helicopter hit Blackrock island off north Mayo in the early hours of March 14th, 2017.

The bodies of Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith remain missing, in spite of extensive searches.

The Department of Transport said it could not confirm which “party” requested the review, as reported in The Sunday Times today here.

CHC said it “continues to engage fully with the investigation and remain committed to complying with our obligation to avoid commenting on any aspect of the final report”.

CHC Ireland is holder of the 500 million euro Irish Coast Guard search and rescue contract, which is due to expire in 2022 – though an extension could be allowed to 2025- and work has already begun on preparing a new tender.

The Department of Transport confirmed that arrangements are being made for the review of the draft final report, which was released to interested parties last autumn for comment within 60 days.

The AAIU does not seek to apportion liability or blame, but lack of oversight by the Irish Aviation Authority and management failures by the Irish Coast Guard and CHC have already emerged as factors.

The preliminary report published in April 2017 identified faulty navigation systems and incorrectly fitted satellite locator beacons on the lifejackets of the two pilots.

The Dublin-based crew had been tasked to provide “top cover” support to the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter for a medical evacuation off the west coast.

Stakeholders were informed on January 8th of a delay in publishing the final report, when the AAIU confirmed that an “interested party” “had “served written notice of re-examination on the Minister for Transport...on specific findings and conclusions contained in the draft final report”.

Regulation 15 (1) of the Air Navigation Regulations 2009 allows for a re-examination of “any findings and conclusions in that report that appear to reflect adversely on the person’s reputation or on the reputation of any person, living or dead, whose executor, administrator or other representative he or she is”.

The report’s delayed publication, along with an anticipated general election, means legislation which would transfer air navigation functions from the IAA to a new Irish Air Navigation Authority is in danger of “sliding down the legislative agenda”, Ialpa president Capt Evan Cullen said this weekend (sat).

“This Bill includes vital reforms to aviation regulation which are essential to bring Ireland into line with European aviation safety norms,”Capt Cullen said, calling on the Government to make it a priority.

Capt Cullen noted that the Minister for Transport had committed as far back as August 2015 to restructure the regulatory functions of IAA, but progress had been “protracted”.

The IAA currently has a “conflict of interest” in holding a safety mandate for regulatory oversight while it also “makes money out of the same entities that it regulates”, he said.

“The aviation industry in Ireland should be a cause of pride. However, Ireland’s aviation regulator remains an outlier in terms of its corporate structure,” Capt Cullen said.

“ The framework of the IAA is so outdated it is undermining Ireland’s reputation for upholding safety standards. This needs to be urgently addressed,” he said.

“Once this bill is initiated, we urge the party whips in the Dáil and Seanad to commit to agreeing to prioritise the passage of the bill so as to facilitate its enactment in advance of the general election,” Capt Cullen said.

The chair of the review board for the AAIU’s final draft report must be a barrister or solicitor of no less than ten years’ standing or a person who, in the minister’s opinion, has “aeronautical or engineering knowledge or other special knowledge or experience of air navigation or aviation”.

The review will be held in private, with the applicant given 21 days’ notice. A report is then compiled for the minister if the re-examination proceeds.

For more, read The Sunday Times here

Published in Rescue
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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