UK firm involved in fatal crash grounds EC135 helicopter fleet

LONDON Thu Dec 12, 2013 10:51pm GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - British-based air services company Bond Aviation said on Thursday it had suspended its global fleet of 38 EC135 helicopters following discovery of a technical fault in one.

A Bond Aviation EC135 helicopter leased to the police dropped from the sky onto a pub in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 29, killing three crew and seven others. Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has so far found no evidence of engine or gearbox failure in that helicopter.

The suspension took one third of Britain's emergency ambulance and police helicopters temporarily out of service but some later in the day were returned to operations.

A company spokeswoman said one of the helicopters made by the Eurocopter subsidiary of aerospace group EADS had experienced an "indication defect" on Wednesday but declined to give more details of the incident.

"We are continuing to investigate that technical fault that resulted in us temporarily suspending operations," she said.

It is the latest in a spate of helicopter incidents in Britain and has prompted calls from a transport union for a safety inquiry.

In August, four oil rig contractors were killed when a Super Puma L2 made by Eurocopter crashed into the sea off Shetland's southern coast, causing a temporary halt on all Puma flights. An investigation found no technical fault.

The Bond Aviation spokesman said the company was left with 22 EC135 helicopters operating in Britain after the Scotland crash and these had been suspended as a precautionary measure. Sixteen more are overseas, in Ireland and Australia.

Eurocopter said in a statement it was aware of a reported issue with the fuel indication system of the suspended helicopters but said some of the Bond aircraft were already back in service.

Eurocopter did not recommend any specific action regarding the EC135 fleet in service around the world, it added.

CALLS FOR SAFETY INQUIRY

Eurocopter stressed it was only Bond Aviation's fleet that had been suspended from flying, which was standard procedure after a reported incident. Other EC135s globally were continuing to operate as normal.

"Eurocopter does not recommend any further action for the other EC135 aircraft in service around the world," it said in a statement.

Offshore union RMT called for a full public inquiry into helicopter safety both onshore and offshore, demanding to know if there was any connection between the three incidents.

"There is now a widespread and deep-seated concern over the whole issue of helicopter safety," RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said in a statement.

"All of those workers using the helicopters, whether they be offshore, police, ambulance, coastguard or any other industry, have a right to know that their place of work is safe and that means establishing the full facts as an absolute matter of urgency."

Established in 1961, Bond provides search and rescue, offshore crew-change transport, air ambulance support, police helicopter support, and specialist services such as offshore wind farm and lighthouse maintenance, and aerial lifting.

Bond is owned by the UK-based Avincis Group, a privately owned provider of aerial services for critical operations, which is currently in exclusive talks with engineering support services company Babcock International Group which could result in Babcock taking a stake.

A spokesman for Babcock said on Thursday that the situation was unchanged and talks were continuing.

(Additional reporting by Christine Murray in London and Tim Hepher in Paris, Editing by Stephen Addison, Ralph Boulton and Cynthia Osterman)

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