Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

12.09 24 Nov 2020


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The government is being urged to give the Air Corps a role in Ireland's search and rescue services.

A new search and rescue aviation contract is currently being developed.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he does not expect the Air Corps to have full responsibility for search and rescue services in future contracts.

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However, he wants it to be as involved as it possibly can be.

A group of aviation experts have joined with a number of Oireachtas members to urge an increased role for the Air Corps in the operation of the next search and rescue contract.

Gerard Craughwell, Independent Senator and chair of Secure Ireland’s Search and Rescue (SISAR), said the group wants to "solidify" the Air Corps' involvement in search and rescue services.

He told The Pat Kenny Show: "While there has been a contract for operating the helicopter side of search and rescue over the last ten years, the Irish Air Corps were on an available basis...for top cover which is a communications link between the helicopter and mainland.

"The Air Corps have been involved in some way all along in search and rescue and what we want to solidify that.

He said the state has recently spent €260m on new aircraft, while pilots have been recommissioned into the Air Corps and the expertise is there to provide full, on contract top cover once resources are made available, as well as for search and rescue helicopters to be used on the east coast.

Some of these pilots have returned to the Air Corps from commercial airlines since the advent of COVID-19 as "a good stable job with a pension is something to be treasured".

24/7 service

Mr Craughwell added that the group wants to put top cover on a formal footing similar to air ambulance service and Garda helicopter service.

He said this would allow for a rostered service where air search and rescue would be on standby and available 24/7 and 365 days a year.

However, investment in new aircraft is also needed.

Mr Craughwell said: "If we look at the last ten years where we have had an excellent search and rescue service from private contractors, at the end of this contract, the contractor leaves with his or her helicopters.

"If the Air Corps had been running that over the last ten years, we would still have the helicopters with another 20 years left in their life expectancy."

He added that he was "extremely impressed" in the moves made by Simon Coveney "to drive things forward".

Mr Craughwell said: "What we can't do is have the Air Corps managing these services out of the budget it currently has, it must be given full resources to deliver that kind of service."

Main image: File photo of Irish Air Corps helicopter. Picture via Irish Air Crops / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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