A SPAT has broken out following a decision by the Maritime Coastguard Agency to temporarily withdraw Shetland’s back-up rescue helicopter.
Normally two aircraft provide search and rescue services for the isles. However, a decision on Friday to pinch the back up Rescue 103 helicopter to provide temporary cover on England’s south coast has enraged isles MP Alistair Carmichael.
He is calling for a government review of the search and rescue contract.
Contractor CHC Scotia Helicopters insists the Sikorsky S92 aircraft will be returned once repairs are carried out on night time equipment used on the Lee on Solent aircraft.
Mr Carmichael said his attempts to get answers from CHC over the withdrawal had met a wall of silence.
“I spoke to Jim Fitzpatrick, the transport minister responsible for the coastguard at 9.30am on Saturday morning.
“Since then I have been trying to speak to CHC senior management but they refuse to talk to me.
“There are serious questions about the level and standard of service that CHC has provided in recent months and people are now asking why they are not prepared to answer them. What does CHC have to hide?”
Mr Carmichael added that it was the second time CHC had “defaulted on the service” promised to the isles.
“Just a few weeks ago they the whole service went offline for several hours and now we are told that Shetland is to be left without a backup helicopter in November, as the winter weather sets in.
“I question seriously the fitness of CHC to provide this service and I am asking the minister and the MCA to review the contract under which they were given the job.”
Mr Carmichael called on CHC management to publish any risk assessment it carried out before withdrawing the helicopter, and urged the coastguard agency to explain how Shetland was landed with a contract which did not specify having a backup helicopter as part of the minimum standard of service.
He said: “I am told that the contract does have a clause preventing CHC from discussing the service without MCA permission. It would seem that the MCA were more concerned with news management than with providing an adequate service when this contract was drawn up.”
A statement from CHC described the move as “short-term” to ensure search and rescue services on the south coast are able to continue uninterrupted.
Staff at the air rescue co-ordination centre at Kinloss have been made aware of the deployment, and will provide helicopter cover if required.
The helicopter is expected to be away for approximately one week.