Friday, June 14, 2013

George Town, Cayman Islands: Heliport found unsafe

Posted on Fri, 06/14/2013 - 07:46 
Cayman News Service

The country’s highest judge has ruled in favour of a legal action challenging the reasonableness of a decision by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands (CAACI) to certify the commercial heliport in George Town, owned and used by Cayman Islands Helicopters Ltd (CIHL). Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ruled that the decision was unreasonable and the pad should not have been certified as it is not in compliance with the various safety standards with which the authority would normally use to assess such a site. In a complex ruling, the CJ points to a catalogue of reasons why the heliport should not have been certified in response to the legal challenge filed by Axis International Ltd, a commercial neighbour of the heliport.

Although the chief justice has not directly overturned the certification, he has ordered the CAACI to reassess the heliport in accordance with the rules and regulations and safety criteria that it should have used in the first place. Although CIHL also uses the airport, the George Town helipad has been used by the helicopter firm since November 2011 from which it takes off and lands its helicopter for customer tours of Grand Cayman, particularly from cruise ship passengers.

In his ruling following the legal dispute, which listed a catalogue of objections and issues relating to safety questions and the nuisance factor of the heliport against both the CAACI and CIHL, Smellie found that the CAACI had failed to meet its duty imposed by the Air Navigations Overseas Territories Order (ANOTO) and the Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements.

At the end of the 149-page ruling, in which the chief justice scrutinizes the details, procedures, regulations, safety questions and much more followed by the CAACI during the process of the certification, as well as the influences on its decision, he stated, "[T]he certification of the heliport is not in compliance with the ANOTO and the standards of the OTARs.” The judge pointed to his detailed explanations in the ruling and stated, “[T]he heliport may not be considered to be safe for the purposes of the on-going operation of the helicopter in the manner that it is being operated.”

Smellie highlights a catalogue of issues surrounding the certification, starting with the CAACI’s close involvement from the beginning and its misguided indication to the owners of CIHL that the pad was a suitable location and that it could be certified, as well as the commercial interests of the business.

Smellie said, “It is apparent from the evidence that the CAACI allowed itself to become unduly influenced in the process of certification by its willingness to accommodate the commercial objectives of CHIL. Indeed, it may have felt embarrassed and obliged to do so on account of its own early and premature expression of satisfaction as to the suitability of the Heliport site.”

The port is located on North Church Street in the George Town harbour on an ironshore coastline and is very close to the water.

He points to the evidence of the CAACI’s willingness to depart from the “obviously prudent” safety standards imposed by the OTARs as there were a number of issues raised in the case that indicated the location was unsuitable.

The ruling notes a number of problems but the police also indicated that they would not use the site for its air support unit except in the most dire emergency circumstances, as they too did not believe it was safe.

The ruling found an accumulation of issues which point to the CAACI’s decision being unreasonable and, as a result, ordered the authority to address the issue. Despite finding that the port may not be safe, the judge opted not to order its closure.

“I consider it appropriate, however, that the Court should recognize the on-going remit of the CAACI as the body duly authorised and responsible for ensuring air navigation safety within the Islands. This is not a function that the court should override if there is another appropriate remedy. The CAACI has an on-going ability under Article 122 of ANOTO to monitor and reassess the Heliport and decide whether or not to vary, suspend or revoke certification. Rather than quashing the certificate, the court should allow the CAACI to exercise this function now in light of the clarifications of its responsibility and the issues for its assessments …”

Smellie adds that it should not be obliged to maintain the certification because of the commercial interests, as he declared that the heliport was not in compliance with the standard regulations.

Despite the findings of the CJ and the obvious safety issues raised in the complex and lengthy ruling, other sources have stated that the CAACI is appealing the decision.

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