Published: May 8, 2012
Somerset's air ambulance gets green light to fly again after safety alert

Air ambulances - including Somerset's - have been cleared to fly again, after half of the UK's fleet of 32 helicopters were grounded over safety fears on Tuesday (May 8th).

The main operator, Bond Air Services, had withdrawn all 22 of its Eurocopter EC 135 helicopters - including 16 air ambulances - over concerns about possible cracks in the rotor hub.

The model is used by air ambulance services in Somerset plus many other regions of the UK, Scotland and Wales.

The Devon and Somerset air ambulance is frequently used in the Burnham-On-Sea area to provide emergency transport, as pictured above in Brean last month when a walker suffered a heart attack and, right, in Highbridge in February when a pupil was air-lifted from King Alfred School following a sports accident.

Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance grounded its aircraft, but said services would instead be provided by neighbouring Wiltshire, where possible.

Bill Sivewright, chief executive of the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, said: "We are used to working together so when these things happen we can respond. No-one can pretend it is everything we want it to be, but I would rather be in this position than cleaning up after an accident."

Bond Air Services said that it has been working with Eurocopter engineers over the past 34 hours to determine if the fleet could be flown safely. A spokesman said Eurocopter had "given an unequivocal guarantee" that the EC 135 is safe to fly.

The Association of Air Ambulances (AAA) said 16 helicopters were affected out of the 30 in service for charities in England and Wales plus two run by the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Last month, it was reported that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) advised increased safety inspections on the EC 135 while a possible fault was investigated.

Eurocopter said more than a thousand EC 135s were operating worldwide and the model had "an excellent safety record". It added "safety is and has always been Eurocopter's top priority."

Bond Air Services said its mechanics had subsequently found a crack during maintenance work at Staverton Airport in Gloucestershire and reported it to Eurocopter. Eurocopter then issued an additional safety notice on Sunday morning following urging daily visual checks. It did not order that the fleet be grounded, but Bond said it felt compelled to take that decision.

Pictured and in video: The Devon and Somerset air ambulance, above, at Brean last month when a walker suffered a heart attack and, centre, in Highbridge in February when a pupil was air-lifted from King Alfred School



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