Labour TD says air service tender process was 'flawed'
A government TD has said the process used to award the public service air contract for the Aran Islands was "flawed".
Labour's Derek Nolan said there were difficulties with it from the start due to uncertainty over the availability of Galway Airport.
A helicopter company was last month chosen as the preferred bidder for the €900,000-a-year contract, based on a proposal that involved the use of the airport at Carnmore.
However, it has now emerged that the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) did not consult with the airport's owners, Galway City Council and Galway County Council, about the availability of the facility before Executive Helicopters was selected.
Mr Nolan's comments heap further pressure on Gaeltacht Minister Joe McHugh to sort out the row, which threatens to leave the islands without any air service from October 1 when the contract of the current operators, Aer Arann Islands, runs out.
Speaking on Raidió na Gaeltachta, Mr Nolan said: "There are problems with Carnmore, there are problems with the city and county councils. I think there were problems from the start and that the tendering process was flawed."
Mr Nolan, a member of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, said he did not know if the contract could be withdrawn at this stage.
Mr McHugh has asked Aer Arann Islands to continue operating until next February to allow time for the matter to be ironed out.
However, the Irish Independent understands it is highly unlikely to agree to this and is planning to seek a judicial review.
Islanders are unhappy that the proposed new service will not fly to Inveran in Connemara, 8km from the Rossaveal ferry port.
The site Executive Helicopters proposes to use is a 52km drive from Rossaveal.
Concerns have also been expressed about safety and whether Executive Helicopters has sufficient aircraft in place.
In a statement, Executive Helicopters said it had been operating in the west of Ireland for 20 years without any problems. It said it was in a position to fulfil all the requirements of the tender and would have helicopters with a greater capacity than the existing Aer Arann Islands aircraft.
The statement added that heli- copters were better placed to deal with rapidly deteriorating weather.
"It has the option to either slow down or land whereas a fixed wing airplane has to seek a suitable diversion airfield. Safety statistics show that helicopters are every bit as safe as aeroplanes," it said.