Dáil Éireann - Volume 476 - 13 March, 1997

Written Answers. - Helicopter Services.

12. Mr. Killeen asked the Minister for the Marine the circumstances surrounding the non-delivery of a fully compliant helicopter with auto-hover to the Shannon air sea rescue service by the contracted date; the action, if any, he has taken in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7031/97]

[826] 17. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the dangers of the Shannon-based, Scottish-owned air-sea rescue helicopter not having an auto-hover facility which was available from the previous Irish-operated service; his views on whether in hindsight an Irish tender for this vital service would have been a preferable choice to protect the maritime community. [6803/97]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett): I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 17 together.

I announced on 2 August 1996 that the Government has approved the award of a contract to Bond Helicopters (Ireland) Ltd., for the provision of a marine emergency helicopter including search and rescue based at Shannon Airport. The contract commenced on 1 January 1997, on the expiry of the previous contract with Irish Helicopters Ltd., which is a British/United States owned helicopter company, and is for a minimum period of two and a half years with an option to extend for up to five years.

Bond advised my Department on 20 February 1997, in accordance with their contractual obligations, that the fully compliant helicopter with auto-hover, which was to be delivered to Shannon by 28 February 1977, was now expected to be in service by mid to end March 1997. The delay in the delivery of this helicopter arose from an electrical design fault identified during a recently completed independent quality check. Adverse weather conditions have also hampered flight testing. The fault has since been remedied and flight testing has resumed. The Bond helicopter development programme, which commenced after the contract award in August 1996 and has been the subject of close monitoring and regular review by the Department, was fully on schedule up to this recent development.

A fully serviceable marine emergency helicopter is already in permanent operation by Bond from Shannon. This helicopter has been providing marine emergency response since 1 January 1997 and has carried out 11 successful rescue missions to date. It has rescued or assisted 22 people including the rescue in extreme weather conditons of 13 fishermen from a fishing vessel, which caught fire at a location 150 miles off the coast of Galway, on 1 March 1997. It has all the features of a fully compliant helicopter, with the exception of an auto-hover system. The absence of an auto-hover makes winching from a small vessel at night difficult but not impossible. Otherwise the helicopter is fully equipped for 24-hour marine emergency response. Bond have made available, with effect from 1 March 1997, a second helicopter to improve the capabilities of the existing helicopter at night time and in bad weather conditions. Crews and specialist lighting devices have been provided to support the operation of two helicopters on a rescue mission.

Since 1 January 1997 Bond has been providing a satisfactory search and rescue service which will [827] be underpinned by the early entry into service of an autohover equipped helicopter.

In awarding the contract to Bond my objective is to deliver the highest achievable standards of reliability and quality of service while ensuring the best value for State resources. During the tendering process strict tender guidelines were adhered to and my Department complied fully with national and EU public procurement requirements. The three tenders received were evaluated by a multi-disciplinary, expert Helicopter Contract Working Group and were assessed on an equal basis. I am fully satisfied that my Department's conduct of the tender and its evaluation were both ethical and in compliance with EU public procurement procedures.

My Department will continue to monitor developments very closely and will review all matters relating to the service, including contractual obligations, on a week to week basis.