Monday, April 09, 2012

Safety fears after crack on Scottish ambulance helicopter rotor blade

SCOTLAND’S air ambulance helicopters are undergoing daily checks after a safety scare where a crack was found on a rotor blade – a defect experts claim could cause the aircraft to crash.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) issued an emergency alert over the Eurocopter EC135 model after a fault was found with one of the Scottish Ambulance Service’s two aircraft.

Daily inspections are now being carried out on the helicopters, based at Inverness and Glasgow.

The crack on the main rotor blade was discovered during a routine inspection and led Easa to order a worldwide inspection of about 1,000 helicopters of the same model.

The Scottish Ambulance Service said its helicopters were “safe and serviceable”.

A spokesman said: “The part was replaced immediately and Bond is carrying out detailed daily inspections of the aircraft in line with the Easa directive.”

It is the second time in two years that the safety of the EC135 model has raised concerns.

In October 2010 air safety bosses warned that part of the transmission to the main rotor was not up to standard.

The latest fault was a crack on the lower hub-shaft flange of a main rotor hub shaft.

A report by Easa said an engineering and laboratory investigation has already found that deformed safety pins used to secure blade bolts could have caused them to rotate.

It adds: “This condition, if not detected and corrected, could lead to further crack propagation, possibly resulting in main rotor hub failure and consequent loss of the helicopter.

“The investigation is on-going and the cause of the cracking has not been determined year.”

Easa has ordered safety inspected to be carried out on aircraft before their first flight each day while the investigation continues.

The agency said the fault could also affect Eurocopter’s EC635 model, an aircraft used by the Swiss air force and the armed forces of Jordan and Iraq.

A spokesman for Bond Air Services said it was working with Eurocopter to identify the exact cause of the defect and was doing all it could to comply with the new safety orders.

He added: “Upon detecting a crack during a scheduled maintenance check on one of our EC135 helicopters, we followed our safety plan and immediately notified Eurocopter and our client, the Scottish Air Ambulance Service.

“A special check of all our EC135s was immediately carried out before their next flight, without a further finding.

“Eurocopter also promptly initiated a worldwide EC135 fleet inspected, which has confirmed this, up to now, the only occurrence across the worldwide fleet in over 2.3 million flight hours since the first helicopter was manufactured over 15 years ago.

The two EC135s were handed to the Scottish Ambulance Service in 2000. The organisation also has two fixed-wing planes,.

Based in Inverness and Glasgow they respond to emergency calls such as road accidents and requests from remote, rural or island clinicians to provide speedy medical care and transportation to mainland hospitals.

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