Thursday, March 15, 2012

Butuan City, Philippines - Huey choppers battered but not retiring soon

The recent crash of another Philippine Air Force (PAF) UH-1H Huey helicopter in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte last Sunday has lead to questions whether the aging refurbished aircraft is still air worthy or needs to be replaced and retired.

“We are still confident that with proper maintenance, the Huey is still air worthy and a huge essential part of our Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Elpedio B. Talja, commander of the PAF Tactical Operations Group 10 based in Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro City. “Our existing helicopters are still reliable and perform well. All that is needed is good check-ups and spare parts,” he added.

Talja pointed out that the Air Force has no plans yet of retiring the existing UH-1H fleet and it will be working hand in hand with the recent arrival of the PZL Swidnik W-3 Sokol from Poland.

PAF currently has 40 Bell UH-1H Huey helicopters in service, which has served as the workhorse of the Armed Forces in transporting troops and supplies, as well as for search and rescue (SAR) operations since the late 1970s. Back in December 2010, five newly refurbished Hueys were turned over by the United States government to the Air Force to augment the aging force.

Unfortunately, there had been numerous crashes involving the Hueys since the 1980s that led to injuries and fatalities. Last year alone PAF suffered two Huey crashes – one on April 1 in Antipolo, Rizal that injured five, and another in October in Sulu, killing three Air Force personnel.

The incident in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte last Sunday, where seven were injured, was the first incident this year.

“The purchase of eight Sokol combat utility helicopters is a welcome sight for the Armed Forces,” Talja said.

Last February, four of the eight Sokols were delivered to the Philippine government. The final four helicopters will be delivered later this year.

The aircraft’s ancestry can be traced to the concept of the Soviet’s Hind attack helicopters.

“Actually, there are many modernization projects in the pipeline, a lot of plans are in the works, like long range patrol aircraft, light attack helicopters and fighter aircraft,” Talja added.

The need for long range patrol aircraft, like the US P-3 Orion, was in discussion since the late 1990s as part of AFP modernization program under the Capability Upgrade Program (CUP).

The last 10 Northtrop F-5 Freedom used by PAF as air superiority fighters were decommissioned back in September 2005. Since then, Philippines does not have any fighters to intercept any aircraft entering its air space. 

Piaggio's P180 Avanti II Turboprop Challenges Executive Jets

By Jason Fogelson, Forbes

Piaggio Aero Industries S.p.A. was founded in 1998, when a consortium led by Piero Ferrari (of the famous automotive family and current Vice President of Ferrari S.p.A.) acquired the aeronautical and mechanical assets of Rinaldo Piaggio’s company, which had been producing airplane engines since 1915 and airplanes since 1925. Today’s Piaggio is headquartered in Genoa, Italy, producing a twin-engine turboprop plane, the P180 Avanti II.

The company is jointly owned by three groups: The Di Mase and Ferrari families out of Italy; Tata Limited, a British division of the Tata Group of India; and Mubadala Aerospace, a business unit of Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Development Company.

John Bingham is President and Chief Executive Officer of Piaggio Aero America, and Chief Marketing Officer for Piaggio Aero Industries. A charming Londoner with a sophisticated accent, Mr. Bingham spoke with me via telephone from his United States home in Florida.

FOGELSON: First of all, the Avanti II is a very cool looking little plane.

BINGHAM: Yes, it is very cool. It’s a plane that draws a huge amount of attention whenever it pulls onto a ramp. It is different. Once people get inside it they understand why people are so enamored with the aircraft because the cabin is huge. We have been making the Avanti II since around 2006. It is an aircraft that we make to order. In that way, with the peaks and troughs of the market, we are able to ride them easier than some of our other aviation competition. We have the ability to make up to thirty aircraft. We have just recently embarked on building a new factory in addition to the one that we have in Genoa. With our new factory, we will be able to build between forty and forty-five aircraft a year. In 2010, we only produced eleven and in 2011, we produced fourteen. In 2012, we think we will comfortably surpass fourteen.

FOGELSON: Looking at the configurator on line it looks like the seating capacity of the P180 is about six plus cockpit?

BINGHAM: It is actually seven, laid out as club seating. The other thing about the P180 is certified for a single pilot. You can also put someone else in to the right pilot seat, and the washroom is certified for take-off and landing.

FOGELSON: So you could have a flight attendant who started off in the washroom for instance?

BINGHAM: Yes, absolutely.

FOGELSON: Do you sell any of these to airlines or are they all strictly private aircraft?

BINGHAM: They are basically used in a variety of circumstances. Those circumstances range from private owners to companies to air taxi companies and charter and through to fractional ownership.

Our biggest owner is actually in the United States and they have 57 of our aircraft and they operate those on a fractional program. They are operating all over the United States.

Read more:

Bermuda: Iberia Airlines flight diverts for sick passenger

At approximately 3.45pm today [Mar.15] a Guatemalan-bound Iberia Airlines flight diverted to Bermuda after a passenger required medical care.

Ambulance and Bermuda Fire Service personnel met the arriving airline, and the passenger was taken off the plane in a wheelchair, escorted into a waiting ambulance and transported to King Edward Memorial Hospital for treatment.

The aircraft was en route from Barajas International Airport in Spain to La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. The aircraft took on fuel in Bermuda, and departed at approximately 5.30pm.

Pilot’s departure actions “recipe for an accident” - Queenstown Airport, New Zealand

A pilot’s “deliberate decision” to allegedly flout take-off rules at Queenstown Airport could have led to “catastrophic consequences”, a top aviation official says.

Mark Hughes, general manager of airlines for the Civil Aviation Authority, told Queenstown District Court today (Thursday) that a Pacific Blue pilot’s actions during the June 22, 2010 departure were a “recipe for an accident”.

The Auckland-based pilot, 54, is accused of operating a Sydney-bound Boeing 737-800 aircraft, carrying 70 passengers, in a careless manner. He has been granted interim name suppression.

Hughes says because of the risks of the aircraft losing grip from the runway, the fact that the pilot was allegedly 600 feet below the minimum safe crossing altitude at a point between Deer Park Heights and The Remarkables mountains and that because low cloud eliminated a safe return option to Queenstown, the pilot compromised passengers’ safety.

“Once airborne, the aircraft was operated in an unsafe manner,” he says.

“If an engine failure had occurred, there were no safe options. This was the direct result of a pilot-in-command’s decisions to depart in breach of requirements.”

Hughes adds: “The fact that the take-off was achieved in no way reduces the elevated risk that existed as a result of the crew’s decision. Any significant wind change during the take-off role or aircraft malfunction could have resulted in a catastrophic runway excursion.”

Hughes couldn’t find any evidence of the pilot being affected by fatigue, or that the airline had put pressure on the crew to take off that night. The aircraft was transporting contestants from reality TV show The Amazing Race Asia.

“It is my assessment that the safety was compromised as a result of a deliberate decision by the defendant rather than by human error. The consequences of that decision could have been catastrophic.”

The pilot refused to be interviewed by CAA investigators after the incident.

CAA alleges the pilot – one of the most experienced on the fleet – flew out 11 minutes after rules stipulated it was safe to do so. That, compounded by low cloud and high cross-winds, meant that a prudent and responsible pilot would have left the plane grounded.

Defence argues that there are many inconsistencies within the different requirements set down by CAA, Airways corporation and Pacific Blue, and his decision-making was that of a reasonable and prudent pilot.

The defended hearing, which has been presided by Judge Kevin Phillips, was adjourned today after nine days. The defence case hasn’t been heard yet. It’s likely the hearing will resume in June.

India - Small airports are the next big thing: Experts

HYDERABAD: Small airports are part of remedial plans to resuscitate the ailing Indian aviation sector and, not surprisingly, 'non-metro airport' was the buzzword at India Aviation 2012.

During a panel discussion on Thursday, queries on the subject of small airports was eloquent testimony to the growing interest on this business model.

Umesh Kumar Baveja, founder and chairman of Regional Airports Holdings International Ltd (RAHI), a company that is developing two non-metro airports, at Gulbarga and Shimoga, had to request for off-line questions when the discussion on 'Roadmap for Civil Aviation: turbulence and recovery' wound up before lunch as he was inundated by questions from the audience.

Counting on the growth potential of an Indian market that is expected to have 300 million passengers towards 2020, industry players are exploring various business models in different domains. In the wake of these developments, it would safe to say that the sentiment on non-metro airports is bullish.

The Indian aviation sector, currently catering to 64 million passengers, including domestic and international passengers, has 135 airports at a time of burgeoning demand, considering the passenger outlook for 2020.

The market is estimated to grow to have over 1,000 airports by 2020. About 500 of these would be non-metro airports. While big airports are coming up with altogether different dynamics, the small or 'non-metro airports', have greater opportunities, experts said. "Considering factors encouraging the idea of non-metro airports, we can easily say 'small is beautiful.' Investment is small and therefore the risk, too, is small.

"No-frills and low-luxury are the differentiators for non-metro airports. This differentiator results in lower overheads that in turn makes the return on investment (ROI) more attractive," said Captain Gopinath, the pioneer of low-cost airlines in India and among the first to espouse the idea of small airports.

"Tapping the aviation market in tier-II and tier-III cities is a different ball game altogether. The financials are different and the revenue model is unique. You can't measure it by the same yardstick used to measure the biggies, so the game is not exactly easy," said Umesh Kumar Baveja.

According him, the capital cost to develop a Greenfield non-metro airport is Rs 200 crore while the operational cost is Rs 10 crore per year.

And it can be further reduced by smart technology and a simple revenue model. While the expected air traffic is a mere 45 aircrafts a week, the revenue depends on both aeronautical and non-aeronautical factors including landside development.

For instance, in Gulbarga, out of 700 acres of land, 350 acres is used for airport development, while another 350 acres is being utilized for landside development that includes setting up of an international aviation academy. 

Kathmandu, Nepal: Agni Air enters seventh year

Kathmandu: Agni Air completed six years of domestic flight operations in the country today.

The domestic airline company, which started its service on March 16, 2006 with one Dornier DO – 228 aircraft to Lukla, is at present operating with six aircraft –– three German made Dornier - 228 aircraft and three Jet Stream - 41 aircraft manufactured in the United Kingdom –– in various domestic sectors.

Agni Air initially started operations on the Lukla and Tumlingtar sectors with a Dornier - 228 on March 16 and started flying to Biratnagar the next day.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) granted Agni Air the air operator’s certificate, allowing the airline to operate scheduled flights, as well as mountain flights.

The domestic airline company operates flights to different popular tourist destinations across the country including Lukla, Tumlingtar, Biratnagar, Bhadrapur, Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Jomsom. Agni Air has also started operating flights to Khanidanda airport of Khotang.

After the introduction of the pressurized Jet Stream – 41 aircraft, all the major sector flights are being operated through these aircraft. According to the company, it has till date provided service to about 0.7 million passengers.

The airlines also provides 33 percent discount to children up to 12 years of age and does not charge for children below two years.


India - Linking southern radars saves money for airlines

CHENNAI: In spite of some shortfalls, a success story appears to have been scripted behind the consoles of air traffic controllers in the city. 

Airlines saved 22.3 million litres of jet fuel flying over the southern region after the Airports Authority of India (AAI) modernized air traffic control, networked radar and redesigned air space to accommodate more flights at higher cruising altitude.

The system was on trial for nearly a year before being launched officially in September 2011. The efforts have won the AAI the prestigious Jane ATC award this year.

The AAI has decided to replicate the project in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata by year-end.

Ten radars, including newly-installed ones at Vizag and Bellary, were networked as part of a project in Chennai flight information region. Air space above 25,500 feet was controlled from a single centre, helping eliminate blind spots, providing less separation to flights and minimizing delays. Controllers can now monitor flights approaching the southern region's flight zone from as far as Nagpur.

"Integration of radar has helped us give direct routes to flights and save a huge quantity of fuel, reduce delays and emissions. The system has also improved safety. This has increased our operational efficiency," said V Somasundaram, member, air navigation services, AAI board.

Airlines saved 3,121 hours and 14.7 crore litres of fuel by flying shorter routes above 25,000 feet. The amount of fuel saved goes up further if reduced separation and flight level are also added. "Controllers are giving high flight altitude. There is only 50 mile separation between one flight and another flying behind it. This shows that controllers are getting a better radar picture on their monitors," said a pilot.


Norwegian Hercules plane missing in Sweden

A Norwegian Hercules C-130 military transport plane with five people on board lost contact on Thursday afternoon with the airport in northern Sweden where it was scheduled to land

The aircraft was on its way from Evenes in northern Norway to Kiruna in the far north of Sweden when it went missing around 3pm, according to local media reports.

"We don't know what happened. It's gone," an operator at Swedish emergency service SOS Alarm told the local Norrländska Socialdemokraten newspaper.

The plane was participating in a Cold Response military training exercise, the Norwegian Armed Forces said.

“On Thursday at around 4pm it was reported that a Norwegian military transport aircraft of the type C-130 J with five people on board had been reported missing.

“The flight took off from Evenes airport on Thursday afternoon and was flying to Kirune (Sweden) to pick up personnel there.

“The plane disappeared from view for air traffic control before reaching Kiruna airport,” the Norwegian armed forces said.

Swedish rescue service are leading the search operation. Rescue workers from northern Norway, as well as military units from both countries, are also aiding in the search.

Emergency signals from the plane are said to have been detected coming from the area around Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest peak, Lars Broström of emergency services in Kiruna told the TT news agency.

Track vehicles and other emergency response vehicles have been dispatched from Kiruna and other nearby areas in order to participate in rescue operations if needed, he added.

The five Norwegian crew members were travelling to Kiruna without any cargo, Norwegian army spokesman Rune Haarstad told reporters.

Two Norwegian rescue helicopters were forced to turn around due to adverse weather conditions, with strong winds in the area where the aircraft is believed to have disappeared.

“Danish and Swedish helicopters are being deployed in the search from the other direction,” rescue chief Björn Wrandel told Norwegian news agency NTB.

“Two Danish helicopters are trying to fly above the weather and the Swedish ones are trying to come in form the other side,” said Wrandel.

Swedish emergency response leader Jonas Sundin told the TT news agency that weather conditions had complicated search efforts.

"Unfortunately, there is some bad weather near Mount Kebnekaise, so the Norwegian emergency helicopters had to turn back," he said.

Exactly what happened to the plane remains unclear, but several helicopters are now engaged in a search for the missing aircraft.

"We don't know the condition of the aircraft of those who are on board. But we're looking for a crashed airplane," Norwegian military spokesperson John Espen Lien told Norwegian daily Verdens Gang.

The plane was around 80 kilometres west of Kiruna when contact with the aircraft was lost.

"It's a large and sparsely populated area which is now being searched by several helicopters," Fredrik Persson of the Swedish air rescue services told TT.

The missing Hercules was participating in a military training exercise taking place over northern Norway which was scheduled to run from March 12th to March 21st and included 16,000 soldiers from 15 countries.

Cold Response operations are joint exercises between NATO-member Norway and selected members of the Partnership for Peace network.

Bell 212, Campbell Helicopters Ltd., C-FJUR: Accident occurred May 20, 2011 in Slave Lake, Alberta - Canada

EDMONTON - An investigation into a fatal helicopter crash last May found the pilot misjudged his altitude because the glassy water surface of Lesser Slave Lake distorted his depth perception, the Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

The helicopter was one of many scooping up water from the lake to help fight wildfires that destroyed one-third of the nearby town of Slave Lake and the forest around it. Arson is the likely cause of the fire, which caused $700 million in damage.

The crash killed pilot Jean-Luc Deba, 54, of Montreal. Firefighters pulled Deba from the water, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The helicopter was contracted out from Campbell Helicopters Ltd., based in Abbotsford, B.C.

On the afternoon of May 20, 2011, five days after fires burned the town, the yellow helicopter was in the midst of bucketing operations when it approached the lake.

In its report, the safety board found the pilot “likely overestimated the helicopter’s altitude” because of glassy water conditions, which were exacerbated by smoke in the air and a lack of visual references.

As a result, the helicopter’s water bucket inadvertently entered the water before the helicopter was in a hover. The aircraft climbed about 30 metres before rolling rapidly to the right and crashing into the lake, sustaining major damage.

The pilot died of head injuries received on impact.

The investigation found that “the lack of regulations or policies requiring helicopter pilots to wear helmets” puts them at greater risk of injury or death from head injuries they received in a crash or after ditching the aircraft.

The report notes that the risk to pilots is a finding in previous Transportation Safety Board investigations, including a probe into the Cougar Helicopters crash off the coast of Newfoundland in 2009.

The final investigation report A11W0070 and all related materials are available on the TSB website at

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

Airbus pegs India's aircraft requirement at $145 b

Airbus has revised its market forecast for India, stating that the country will require 1,040 aircraft worth $145 billion in the next 20 years.

India's market for new aircraft makes it the world's fourth largest in terms of both number of aircraft and value, the French aircraft maker said.

“We have raised the requirement a little from our earlier projections last year in the light of the surging demand in the (Indian) aviation sector,” Mr Joost Van Der Heijden, Head of Airline Marketing, Africa, India, South-East Asia and Japan, told newspersons on the sidelines of India Aviation 2012 today.

He pointed out that the Indian annual passenger traffic growth rate of 7.2 per cent is well above the regional Asia Pacific average growth rate of 5.9 per cent and world average of 4.8 per cent.

Of the requirement of 1,020 new passenger aircraft, about 860 will be for growth and 160 to replace the older aircraft in the existing fleet of 327. The new passenger aircraft requirement includes 646 single aisles such as the A320 family, 308 twin-aisles and 66 very large aircraft.

For Airbus, India continues to be a focus market. “Last year, 15 per cent of our global orders came from Indian carriers. Globally, we are having a backlog of 4,500 aircraft, which means eight full years of production,” he said.

Indian carriers Indigo and GoAir have ordered a total of 252 aircraft, including 150 of the latest version A320 NEO by Indigo and 72 of the same aircraft by GoAir.

Cargo plane bound for St. Maarten crashed in Puerto Rico, apparently killing 3 crew

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A vintage cargo plane loaded with bread crashed in a lagoon near Puerto Rico's international airport on Thursday, killing the airline's owner and another crew member, authorities said.

The plane had just taken off when the pilot told air traffic control that the plane was having engine trouble, said Juan Rivera, spokesman for the Luiz Munoz Marin airport. It was returning to the airport when it crashed, killing both people aboard, Rivera said. Officials earlier said three had died.

The plane was operated by Florida-based Jet One Express and was bound for the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.

Alejandro Bristol, CEO of Jet One Express, said his father, who is owner of the company, died in the crash. He identified the plane as a Convair 340, which was manufactured in 1953, according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration records.

Bristol said he was en route to Puerto Rico and declined further comment.

Authorities earlier identified the plane as a Convair 440.

Melina Simeonides, spokeswoman for the island's emergency management agency, identified the victims as Uriel Bristol, 67, and Anthony Tavares, 45. She said it is not clear yet who was the pilot.

The plane would make about 15 trips a week to deliver bread to several Caribbean islands, said Arnaldo de Leo, airport manager. It was carrying 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms) of bread when it crashed, he said.

India's Kingfisher chief seeks end to pilot strike

The chief of India's debt-laden Kingfisher Airlines met Thursday with striking pilots to end a row over unpaid wages that has meant the cancellation of scores of flights, an official said.

A passenger inquires at the Kingfisher Airlines booking counter in the domestic terminal in Mumbai in February 2012. The chief of India's debt-laden Kingfisher Airlines met Thursday with striking pilots to end a row over unpaid wages that has meant the cancellation of scores of flights, an official said.

Vijay Mallya, who also runs a global liquor empire, is "in a close-door meeting with the pilots", a company official told AFP, asking not to be named.

The official did not disclose details of the meeting, held in the capital New Delhi, or the number of pilots involved in the strike.

The pilots' strike has forced the cash-strapped carrier to cancel more flights on top of those it scrapped last month to reduce expenses.

Kingfisher, which earlier this week announced it was curtailing its widebody overseas flights in order to lower costs, had initially announced it was cutting its daily flight schedule to 175 from around 250.

The pilots' strike has further reduced the number of flights to around 100 a day.

At least 60 pilots have already left the airline to fly with rivals according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The carrier has never turned a profit since its launch in 2005 and owes millions of dollars to suppliers, lenders and staff.

Its bank accounts have been frozen by Indian authorities due to the non-payment of taxes and it has been dropped from a vital global payments and booking system run by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The airline's net loss widened sharply to 4.44 billion rupees ($88 million) in the three months to December from a loss of 2.54 billion rupees a year earlier, while its debt totals at least $1.3 billion.

India's airline industry -- once a symbol of the country's economic progress -- is now plagued by high fuel prices, fierce competition, price wars and inadequate airport infrastructure, with Kingfisher one of the worst-hit firms.

The airline has said "positive and immediate action is being taken on all fronts to cut costs".

Kingfisher's market share has slid to fifth position at 11.3 percent, from second earlier, according to data on the civil aviation regulator's website.

Pilots Warn That Europe's New Long Flight Shifts Endanger Passengers

New regulations specify that pilots can now fly up to 11 hours straight at night, and 16 hours at a stretch during the day. One pilots' union official calls the new rules the biggest setback in air travel safety since World War II.
BERLIN - A European proposal to increase working hours for commercial airline pilots is the worst setback for air safety in generations, according to the German pilots’ association, Vereinigung Cockpit. The pilots' group is threatening legal action against the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to contest the new binding regulations, due to come into force on March 19.

"The regulations are the biggest step back in air safety since World War II", said Jörg Handwerg, spokesman for the pilots. He added that the new EASA regulations went contrary to all scientific studies conducted about the number of hours pilots could safely work without suffering from exhaustion.

Pilots accuse Cologne-based EASA of pandering to the economic interests of the airline companies. Over half of EASA dues, some 90 million euros, are paid by airline companies and plane manufacturers.

The new regulations specify that pilots on night flights can work 11 hours in a row, even though three different independent reports mandated by EASA itself recommend a maximum of 10 hours, which is how long pilots may presently fly on night flights. During the day, pilots can presently fly for up to 15 hours in a row; under the new regulations that would be increased to 16 hours. Parallel to this, EASA wants rest periods between such stints to be reduced to 7.5 hours from the present 10.

A letter from VC chairman Winfried Streicher to German transport minister Peter Ramsauer, of which Die Welt has obtained a copy, points out that: "Accident analyses have shown that after a pilot has been flying for 12 hours straight, the relative risk of a crash increases sharply, and that flight time of more than 13 hours means 5.5 times higher risk than if the pilot had only flown nine hours."

Read the full story in German by Per Hinrichs

Yobs who shone laser pen in air ambulance pilot’s eyes stopping him taking dying man to hospital walk free from court

Follows a string of recent jail terms, ranging from four to eight months, for almost identical offenses

Two yobs who prevented an air ambulance from taking a dying man to hospital by dazzling the pilot with a laser pen walked free today.

Alex Cox and Luke Fortune, both 21, directed the green laser at the helicopter as the pilot desperately attempted to reach the critically-ill heart patient.

But after three attempts, the pilot had to give up and return to base in Devizes, Wiltshire.

Alex Cox and Luke Fortune, both 21, pleaded guilty to directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot

The tragic pensioner, in his late 70s, had to be driven to hospital in a road ambulance but died en route.

Cox and Fortune pleaded guilty to directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot - but walked free from court with a conditional discharge.

Their release follows a string of recent jail terms, ranging from four to eight months, for laser pen pests who committed almost identical offenses.

But Cox and Fortune were ordered to pay just £278 each in compensation and costs and handed a conditional discharge.

North West Wiltshire Magistrates’ Court in Chippenham heard how the incident happened at midnight on September 8 last year.

The pair, both from Chippenham, were at a friend’s house in nearby Calne when they began shining the laser out of a bedroom window.

They both admitted their involvement but each claimed the other was responsible for directing the beam at the helicopter.

Andrew Watts-Jones, defending talented local rugby player Cox, said it was his client’s laser pen but claimed it was Fortune pointing it at the aircraft.

He said: 'He had the laser pen and he and Mr Fortune had been mucking around with it that night.

'They had both been shining it out the window. At the time when the helicopter was present Alex Cox said he was not the person using the laser pen.

'They entered a conversation about whether or not it would reach as far as the helicopter. Alex thought it wouldn’t and Luke thought it would.'

He claimed Fortune, a local tree surgeon, shone it twice at the helicopter before Cox told him it wasn’t a good idea and they stopped.

Michael Jeary, defending Fortune, said it was Cox who had shone it at the helicopter.

Both said their clients accepted it was stupid and very dangerous and expressed remorse.

Their actions meant the patient required a 25-minute transfer to Great Western Hospital in Swindon by road instead of a ten-minute flight.

It was unlikely the helicopter would have saved the man who had suffered a cardiac arrest, the ambulance service said.

Magistrate Felicity Dowell told them: 'This was a very stupid, thoughtless thing to do.

'I am sure that you did not do it to make the helicopter crash but it would have had that effect.

'You are very lucky it wasn’t very serious. One of you plays rugby - imagine if you were lying on the field with a broken leg waiting for the air ambulance and someone did the same thing.'

Russian Specialists to Modernize Helicopters in Bulgaria

Moscow and Sofia signed a deal to repair and modernize Soviet-era helicopters in Bulgaria, the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation said on Thursday.

The agreement “to organize repairs and modernization of Mi-17 (Mi-8) and Mi-35 (Mi-24) helicopters and its modifications” was signed in Bulgaria’s defense ministry on March 9.

"This agreement provides an opportunity to improve knowledge and skills of our specialists in repairs and modernization of aviation equipment. It will enable us to preserve the potential of our maintenance facilities and keep jobs for our technical personnel,” Bulgarian Deputy Defense Minister Valentin Radev said.

According to western media reports, Bulgaria currently has four Mi-17 transport helicopters in service, while eight are either undergoing repairs or in storage. Twelve attack helicopters were decommissioned in 2009 after reaching the end of their airframe life.

The Bulgarian defense ministry announced the sale of six Mi-17 and six Mi-17 to modernize the remaining aircraft in January 2011.