By NEIL RIDDELL
COASTGUARD rescue helicopter Oscar Charlie was temporarily grounded on Tuesday afternoon after a dispute over the European working time directive.
Under European law workers only have to work a 48-hour week, but the dispute was over the interpretation of the directive within the coastguard service and whether or not time pilots spend on standby should count toward their workings hours limit.
Pilots were concerned that they were close to reaching the maximum 2,000 hours of annual flying time, which could lead to them being penalised by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) if time spent on standby pushed them above the limit.
The helicopter was stood down between midday and 6pm on Tuesday, before an agreement was reached with Canadian firm CHC to allow the crew to continue flying. It is understood that CHC will now look to employ more crew members to prevent the situation cropping up again in the future.
Shetland’s parliamentarians voiced their concern at the dispute, with MSP Tavish Scott saying it was a situation which the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) should never have allowed to develop in the first place.
Mr Scott said it was not only an issue of safety at sea because Oscar Charlie also provides backup to the Scottish Ambulance aircraft and he called for the MCA to “get its act together” and find a permanent solution to the problem.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the dispute, which also led to the coastguard helicopter in Stornoway being grounded for several hours, led to the “unacceptable” situation of seafarers being left without adequate cover.
He said: “The point in dispute is a reasonable one but it is not the sort of issue which should have left us without helicopter cover. Someone somewhere has clearly taken their eye off the ball on this one. The shipping minister and senior management at the MCA must come up with an early answer to this.”