The Scottish Ambulance Service’s ‘Helimed’ helicopter medical evacuation operation and police helicopters can no longer refuel after 5pm at Oban Airport, after the aerodrome’s refuelling contractor complained the shed was blocking his view.
The row has rumbled on since last year, with Paul Keegan, managing director of refuelling contractor Total Logistic Concepts, saying that unless Argyll and Bute Council moves the shed - a storage container for a gyrocopter - or staffs the control tower at night, it is impossible for him to refuel helicopters safely in hours of darkness.
A former firefighter warned that lives in Oban and the surrounding areas may be put at risk if the wrangle is not resolved quickly.
Mr Keegan said on Thursday: “For the last 17 years we have been doing night fuelling.
“We have certain operational procedures - we want to have a visual on the helicopter when it lands and when it takes off.
“The council approved, unknown to us, the placement of a storage container, which has been there since last November.
“It is about four metres high, like a big shipping container.
“Because of this storage container, we cannot see the helicopter landing and taking off.
“Our operations protocol says we should be visual with both landing and departing - and we can’t do that.
“I was told it was placed there temporarily but now I’ve been told the container might be there for four years. I’ve put up with it, but it is pretty awkward for us.
“The council won’t man the airport at night. If they did, they would be able to visual with the helicopter from the control tower when it is landing.”
Mr Keegan says he gave Argyll and Bute Council, which operates Oban Airport, options so he could continue night-time fuelling.
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He said: “We gave the council two options - move the container, it doesn’t need to be where it is. It is placed at the maximum awkwardness.
“Or we will still do the fuelling if they man the tower.”
He added : “I don’t think they foresaw the issue - they are never here at night.”
Former fireman and Oban community councillor George Berry said: “Someone will die before these people stop fighting.
“The councillors need to knock heads together.”
Total Logistics Concepts refuels helicopters for both police and ambulances, mountain rescue and for military operations from its base near the airport.
Senior Scottish Ambulance Service staff have tried to negotiate with both parties in order that a compromise can be reached, but since August they have not been able to refuel at the airport after darkness falls, which in aviation is classed as 30 minutes after sundown.
Instead, the emergency staff are having to re-route to Tiree, or elsewhere, to refuel.
A spokesman for Argyll and Bute council said: “We have a lease in place until 2017 with a private company to be the sole supplier of aviation fuel at Oban Airport.
“The business hours that company wishes to operate are a matter for them.
“We are aware of this issue and are working closely with the Scottish Ambulance Service to assist them to develop contingencies, one of which may involve storage barrels of fuel at our airports on Coll and Colonsay.”
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman said on Thursday: “We have been in ongoing discussions about the provision of night-time refuelling at Oban Airport in the hope that they can come to an agreement as soon as possible.
“In the meantime, we have made arrangements for extra fuel supplies at Tiree and Islay to refuel our helicopters at night, which ensures that air ambulance operations are continuing as usual in the Western Isles.”
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