Air Corps will receive helicopters

THE 60 million plan to acquire three Air Corps search and rescue helicopters will proceed next year, despite the cutbacks in this year's budget, Defence Minister Michael Smith insisted yesterday.

Mr Smith was responding to strong criticism of the Government’s decision to cancel orders for new helicopters in the Air Corps.

The International Transport Federation (ITF) which represents seafarers said lifesaving should be exempt from economic cutbacks.

The Federation’s inspector in Ireland, Tony Ayton said the new helicopters would have improved the country’s air sea rescue capabilities.

Mr Ayton has written to the Minister Smith protesting about his decision not to go ahead with the contract for three new medium range Sikorsky helicopters this year.

Many maritime sector workers were disturbed by the decision, Mr Ayton said.

“The Government should also appreciate there are hundreds of foreign seafarers who enter Irish waters every year moving goods our economy depends on by sea and they also deserve the best protection,” Mr Ayton added.

The seafarers’ representative said the Government should sell the State’s Farmleigh guesthouse and use the money instead to protect the lives of people earning their living on the sea.

But Minister Smith said it was a pity the International Transport Federation did not contact his office before issuing misleading and incorrect information.

“I am fully committed to providing the Air Corps with the best possible equipment for all its roles,” the Minster said.

The money for the three new search and rescue Air Corps helicopters will be either raised through public private partnerships or else the Department will lease the three helicopters.

“A special project team has been set up to examine the issues involved and report to the Minister as soon as possible,” his spokesman said.

In the short-term, the Air Corps’ only search and rescue helicopter, the Dauphin, based in the North West, will be replaced at the end of this year with a larger capacity and long range Sikorsky S61 helicopter.

The decision not to proceed with the acquisition of three new search and rescue helicopters this year was very painful one for the Minister because he regarded it as a priority, his spokesman said.

But after consulting the military authorities, the Minister was told that their main priority was the purchase of eight training aircraft to ensure that cadets continue to be commissioned, trained as pilots and retained in the air corps.

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