Coast Guard's helicopter delivery is part of €500m revamp


THE IRISH Coast Guard’s new Sikorsky S-92 helicopter is due to arrive at its Shannon search and rescue base today.

The new helicopter, which was built in the US, is part of a €500 million Irish Coast Guard fleet replacement programme.

The programme also involves deploying four second-hand S-92s currently based in Scotland to replace the existing Sikorsky S-61s within the next year.

All five aircraft will be leased by Irish Coast Guard search and rescue contract holder CHC Helicopters from CHC Global Leasing, based in Dublin, under a 10-year contract costing €50 million annually.

Built to specifics drawn up by the Irish Coast Guard, the S-92 is equipped with advanced systems and hardware, including an automated flight control system that enables the pilot to fly pre-programmed search patterns and “perform delicate hover manoeuvres”, according to the manufacturer.

Training with crews at Shannon will begin shortly, and its first public demonstration is expected to be at the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s departure from Cobh in Cork.

Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds attended the hand-over ceremony in Pennsylvania in the US late last year and the aircraft was shipped across the Atlantic for assembly. It is due to fly to Ireland from Southampton.

The €500 million fleet replacement programme signed by former transport minister Noel Dempsey had proved controversial on several counts, and Fine Gael in opposition had pledged a review if it was elected to government.

The Department of Defence ruled the Air Corps out as a contender for any new Irish search and rescue work in July 2008.

The Air Corps was withdrawn from search and rescue by former minister for defence Michael Smith in 2004.

It is expected that the Air Corps may be offered an upgraded air ambulance role under arrangements drawn up with the Department of Health.

The department has been in exploratory talks with a number of private companies on provision of a helicopter emergency medical service, and the Roscommon Hospital Action Group had pledged its support for one of the companies, Lifeline Ambulance Services.

The action group, which has still pledged to reverse the closure of the Roscommon emergency department, has called for an inter-hospital air transfer service.