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Executive Helicopters, the preferred tenderer for the Aran Islands air service has stressed that helicopters are safe to fly in all weather conditions.

The company issued a statement this week regarding the controversial public service obligations air contract to the islands, which has been the subject of opposition by islanders who wish to see the existing plane service from Inverin retained.

In the statement, Executive Helicopters stated that a helicopter service will be of commercial and social benefit to the Aran Islands, Galway City and County and the greater region.

Responding to comments by opponents to the new helicopter service, Executive Helicopter firstly addressed the suggestion that airplanes are better capable of operating in worse weather conditions than helicopters. “Airplanes are not permitted by law to operate in worse weather than Helicopters for this route. Airplanes require a minimum visibility of almost twice (1,500m) that required by a helicopter (800m) to operate to the relevant airports.”

It stated that it is fully capable of fulfilling all the requirements of the tender. “Executive Helicopters are in a position to fulfil all requirements under the PSO tender for the Aran Islands air service vis-à-vis, capacities, personal and aircraft. The helicopters for the routes will have a greater passenger capacity, will have similar luggage/cargo capacity and can fly in a greater range and variety of weather conditions.”

The statement highlighted that helicopters are used off the the west coast by the Irish Coast Guard, Search and Rescue services and the IAC Medical Service and these services are readily acceptable and welcomed by all island and coastal communities along the Atlantic seaboard. The Irish Lights have also been using helicopters to service the light houses around the country, including the west coast since the 1970s.

It is also important to note that Executive Helicopters have been operating helicopters in the west of Ireland for almost 20 years without any problems whatsoever.

Again it must be noted that helicopters are better placed to deal with adverse situations such as rapidly deteriorating weather as it has the option to either slow down or land whereas the fixed wing aeroplane has  to seek a suitable diversion airfield.  Safety statistics show that helicopters are every bit as safe as airplanes.

It went on to say that helicopters are already the mainstay and air transport of choice to many offshore islands in open ocean conditions. The Tory Island service off Donegal coast has been operating since 1985 aid is part-funded by the Department of the Gaeltacht. The Bodo/Vaeroy PSO service in Norway is operated by helicopter with two flights per day, seven days per week and helicopters have operated there since 1973 in more severe conditions than those experienced in the West of Ireland.

It went on to explain the terms of the PSO tender in respect of the route itself.

“The Public Service Obligation (PSO) in respect of this scheduled air service is to be operated between Galway Airport or Na Mine Airport, and the Aran Islands. The Request for Tenders required a connecting road transport service from Galway Airport/Na Mine to and from Galway City. The transport time from the Aran Islands to Galway City via Galway airport is approximately 30 minutes less by Helicopter than the alternative by airplane to na Mine airport and road transfer to the city. The request to Tender document specifically limited the service to operate from either Na Mine or Galway Airpots,. Executive Helicopters submitted its tender to operate the service from Galway Airport; it being one of the two airports it was obliged to tender from.”

The new contract was due to be signed a week ago but the present service has been extended until February 1st.

A special meeting is taking place today (Wednesday) 23rd of September in Galway County Council to discuss issues surrounding the use of Galway Airport.