Government faces pressure over helicopter response times

Pressure is being brought to the UK government over controversial proposals to change coastguard helicopter response times.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has demanded the transport secretary make a statement to parliament on the move, which could increase the maximum response time for the helicopter from 15 minutes to an hour – a four-fold increase.

The consideration by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been widely criticised, and was last week slammed by former Sumburgh chief pilot paul Bentley.

Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said: “May we have a statement from the transport secretary to explain to the House the proposal that the search and rescue helicopter stationed in Shetland in my constituency should have its response times increased from 15 minutes to one hour?

“The blue-light services of towns and cities would never be treated like that, so why should islanders be treated differently?”

Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt said: “I shall certainly make sure that the secretary of state has heard what he has said this morning. I think this is a timely matter, so if the right hon. Gentleman keeps me posted, I shall ensure that the department is in touch with his office.”

Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said: “A week on, there is still not enough clarity from ministers or the MCA on the future of the coastguard helicopter at Sumburgh. I have written to the secretary of state for transport and await his response.

“The MCA has said that discussions are ‘ongoing’. As far as I am aware, these ‘ongoing’ discussions are not going on with islanders themselves. You might think that we had an interest in the matter.

“The coastguard helicopter is a highly valued resource for islanders – particularly fishermen and workers in the energy industry – for safety at sea. With autumn storms drawing in it is a reminder of just how important these services are.

“One way or another we need answers – I shall be following this matter up again in the coming days.”

• Read more on the controversial proposals in today’s Shetland Times.


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