POLICE and air ambulance helicopters were returning to service across the UK last night after the same model which crashed into the Clutha bar in Glasgow a fortnight ago was suspended when a fault with the fuel gauge was detected on a flight.
Bond Air Services grounded its fleet of 22 EC135 helicopters as a precaution while the issue, discovered on an air ambulance in the north-west of England on Wednesday, was examined.
The incident was reported to have involved a low fuel warning appearing when the gauge was showing a full tank.
The Association of Air Ambulances (AAA), which represents the majority of the emergency network, said 16 of its 36 helicopters in the UK were affected by the grounding. Individual helicopters were cleared to fly after they had been checked for faults.
Police Scotland said its restrictions had been lifted and their new helicopter, which was brought in after the Clutha accident, had been cleared to fly at 3:18pm.
Wales Ambulance Service said two of its three helicopters had been cleared to fly with checks continuing on a third aircraft. East Anglia air ambulances also returned to service. AAA director Clive Dickin said: “Obviously, when an extremely rare incident like this happens, stresses can be placed on the services however these contingencies are planned for.”
An initial report from the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) issued this week said there was “no evidence of major mechanical disruption of either engine” of the Police Scotland helicopter as it returned from an operation in Dalkeith, Midlothian, on the night of the crash.
A statement from Bond Air Services said: “As a precautionary measure, following an issue with the fuel indication system on one of our aircraft yesterday, we temporarily suspended service operations whilst we undertook further technical investigations of our fleet of EC135s.
“Those aircraft that are confirmed as having no fault will return to service. We will continue to work with the manufacturer Eurocopter on any aircraft which are found with this fault, with the aim of resuming normal service as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Areas affected included Dorset, Somerset, Thames Valley, the Isle of Wight, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales.
The British Airline Pilots Association said not enough information had been released about the decision to ground the aircraft, and a review into how helicopter operations are regulated was also needed.
In a statement, it said: “Pilots are looking to the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to take charge and provide the industry with the information that has informed the decision to ground the Bond EC-135 fleet. Flight safety is best served when there is transparency and openness and these developments leave everyone asking, ‘Why?’.
“This grounding confirms our belief that a fundamental review about how helicopter operations are regulated is needed: a point we will be making forcefully to the House of Commons transport select committee in their upcoming helicopter safety inquiry.”
Eurocopter, the aircraft manufacturer, said the decision taken by Bond did not apply to the rest of the EC135 fleet.
A company spokesman said: “Eurocopter does not recommend any further action for the other EC135 aircraft in service around the world. The European Aviation Safety Agency has never issued an airworthiness directive to ground the EC135 fleet ever since its entry into service in 1996.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service have now confirmed that emergency air capacity is restored.
“We will continue to monitor developments closely and provide support when and where it’s needed.”
In August, four oil rig contractors were killed when a Super Puma L2 made by Eurocopter crashed into the sea off Shetland’s southern coast, causing a temporary halt on all Puma flights.