Wednesday 22 January 2020

Helicopter crash factors 'still there'

The late Ciaran Smith
The late Ciaran Smith

The factors that led to a fatal helicopter crash off the Mayo coast in 2017 which claimed the life of local Coastguard winchman, Ciaran Smith, still exist, an organisation representing pilots in Ireland has claimed.

The Irish Air Line Pilots' Association said it is concerned an accident could happen again if the causes contributing to the crash are not comprehensively addressed.

Four members of the Irish Coast Guard air crew died in the Rescue 116 crash in March 2017.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, 45, Captain Mark Duffy, 51, and winchmen Paul Ormsby, 53, and Ciaran Smith, 38, all died when their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed into Blackrock island off the coast of Mayo.

It is understood that inaccurate charts and risk of fatigue were among some of the contributing factors in the tragic crash.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit is due to publish a report in the coming months.

The pilot union Irish Air Line Pilots' Association has urged the Irish Government to make changes to the state regulator, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

Irish Air Line Pilots' Association president Captain Evan Cullen claimed there are serious issues with the corporate structure of the IAA.

'The IAA is an outlier in terms of its corporate structure,' he said.

'One of the things that makes it unique is that it has the safety regulatory function. But it also has a commercial agenda under its air navigation service provider function.

'In all other western jurisdictions those two are absolutely separate.

'In Ireland we've combined the two, so therefore the organisation has its safety mandate as a regulatory oversight and it also makes money out of the same entities that it tries to regulate.

'Certainly there's a paradox and that's not sustainable.'

He said that the IAA is not subject to any ombudsman, nor the Auditor General and the group is not subject to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

He added that the reasons behind the crash 'are still out there'.

Capt Cullen said the organisation has raised concerns about the regulator on many occasions since 2003.

'Everything from flight time limitations to tiredness, and obviously the navigational inaccuracies, and security issues which are separate to safety,' he added.

'The issues raised are quite diverse and what's been obvious over the years is that the IAA are judging the concerns raised by the source, rather than the actual subject,' Capt Cullen added.

The Irish Aviation Authority and Department of Transport have yet to respond to the comments from IALPA on the issue.

Fingal Independent