Help to fix search ops oversight failings

The Irish Aviation Authority is to get additional resources to implement changes proposed in a report highlighting a fragmented and sometimes disconnected level of oversight of search and rescue aviation operations.

The AQE Review of the Oversight of Search and Rescue (SAR) Aviation Operations in Ireland was carried out by a panel of independent experts and follows the interim safety recommendation report delivered to the Government last March into the Rescue 116 accident in 2017.

Four rescue crew [pictured] — Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby, and Ciarán Smith — died in the tragedy.

Transport Minister Shane Ross said he accepted all 12 recommendations in the report.

“I have instructed that all necessary steps be taken without delay to ensure speedy implementation of all of the recommendations,” he said.

The report highlights how areas of responsibility seem to criss-cross agencies and bodies, painting an often confusing picture regarding which organisation is responsible for specific areas.

One example from the report states: “AQE has identified a gap in understanding between some of the key players in relation to the concept that the National Maritime SAR Framework should serve as the ‘National Search and Rescue Plan’, and the narrower interpretation of it as reference document for use by all Irish search and rescue authorities working in the maritime domain.

“This lack of clarity is a significant source of divergence in understanding between the Department, the [Irish Coast Guard], and the [Irish Aviation Authority] regarding the roles and responsibilities of the key stakeholders in the Irish SAR system.”

Elsewhere, it states: “According to the National Maritime SAR Framework document, the [Aviation Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Shannon/Air Rescue Sub-Centre in Dublin] is limited to requesting aviation resources only in response to an aviation incident, without mentioning who should provide these resources and when.”

Among the recommendations is that the department “ensure that personnel involved in managing and tasking SAR aviation operations including the tasking of helicopter missions, are appropriately skilled, knowledgeable, and qualified”.

It says agencies such as the Irish Aviation Authority should be properly resourced, particularly in areas where it may need to take on additional responsibilities.

A department spokesperson said: “The IAA is working through what additional resources it requires to implement those recommendations in the report that are directed at it. It will be able to recruit whatever additional staff it needs.”

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