New fleet of Coast Guard helicopters take to skies

Sikorsky S92 helicopters are described as a flying ambulance

The new Coast Guard Sikorsky S92 helicopter for the East Coast region at the launch of the new helicopter at Weston Airport this morning. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

The new Coast Guard Sikorsky S92 helicopter for the East Coast region at the launch of the new helicopter at Weston Airport this morning. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Mon, Jan 13, 2014, 20:32

The last of the Coast Guard’s new Sikorsky S92 helicopters - described as “a flying ambulance” - was launched at Weston Airport this morning.

The new fleet has a top speed of 185 kilometres per hour, a range of 500 kilometres and according to Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar is faster and safer, can carry more casualties, and can fly at higher altitude and in much worse weather than its predecessor.

The new helicopters which come with a retail price tag of about €40million each, are being leased as part of a package which includes operations crews, from CHC Helicopter, one of the world’s largest providers of such services.

The cost of the package is €55m a year before vat. Under the deal the Coast Guard gets a minimum of 65 hours per month, at each of the four bases, which are located as Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo.

CHC Helicopters has decked five helicopters in red and white Irish Coast Guard colours to provide the service.

Typically the 65 hours would would be split evenly between training and operations, said Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds, who added the package represented “a very good deal”.

Chris Hodson of CHC Helicopter said additional hours of coverage could be agreed in the event of very busy year.

Mr Varadkar said the Coast Guard budget was being increased to almost €68million this year to incorporate the cost of the service.

The new helicopters are based at Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo and will cover the island of Ireland as well as operating services for the HSE including transporting patients for organ transplants to London.

Speaking at the launch of the final helicopter this morning Mr Varadkar said he was delighted the helicopter fleet was upgraded, a move which allowed it “to expand its role in providing emergency medical transport for the HSE”. Last year the Coast Guard performed 253 aeromedical missions and 159 offshore island medical evacuations, he said.

Mr Reynolds said the service would operate across the whole island but said authroities in the north would not be forced to carry the cost of the operation as the authorities in Britain had for many years provided an airborne search and rescue capability for Ireland.

He said the HSE would be required to contribute towards “minor costs” above certain tresholds, such as the cost of fuel.

Helicopter pilot Ed Shivnen of Swords, Co Dublin said the new helicopter had an almost all glass cockpit making it easier to fly. He said the faster speed and longer range were welcome improvements.

The S92 crews including State-registered paramedics can provide medical services on inter-hospital transfers, and on donor organ recipient transfers. Specialist medical teams can also be transported, while the aircraft’s rear access ramp can accommodate stretchers, hospital trolleys, incubators, equipment and personnel .

The helicopters can also assist can mountain rescue teams attending incidents anywhere in the country at very short notice. It is also available for train or bus crash or road traffic accidents requiring multi casualty evacuation.