Clutha Tragedy Lawyers Urge Ministers To Launch Public Inquiry Into Helicopter Safety

Aviation Experts Demand Action In Letter To UK And Scottish Parliament

29.01.2014

Specialist aviation lawyers representing a growing number of victims of the Clutha tragedy in Glasgow have written to Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin, urging him to launch a public inquiry into commercial helicopter safety in the UK and review the laws that exempt helicopters from having to carry crucial black box equipment.

In a letter also sent to members of the UK and Scottish Parliaments, including David Cameron and Alex Salmond, Irwin Mitchell’s Aviation Law team, which recently commenced legal action for injured victims and families who lost loved ones in the crash on 29 November last year, are calling for a public inquiry to consider:

  • How safe are commercial helicopter flights?
  • How does the UK’s safety record compare with that of other countries?
  • What steps could and should be taken by the industry to improve the safety of flights?
  • How could legislation and regulations relating to helicopter safety be improved?
  • How effective are existing regulators, including the European Aviation Safety Agency, in ensuring that recommendations to improve safety are implemented?

The experts, who also act for victims of a number of other helicopter crashes including a fatal Eurocopter crash off the coast of Shetland in August last year, the ditching of another Eurocopter in the North Sea in October 2012 and the crash of an Augusta Westland helicopter in Vauxhall, London in January 2013, say there have been at least 20 helicopter accidents in UK airspace, with at least 40 fatalities since 2009.

Expert Opinion
The tragedy in Glasgow has put a spotlight on the issue of helicopter safety, but the unfortunate truth is that it is just the latest in a string of tragedies and urgent action is now needed to ensure that helicopter safety standards are reviewed and improvements made where necessary.

"Our clients rightly want answers and reassurances that no one else will have to go through the ordeals that they have been through.

"Because of our concerns, we have written to transport ministers in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments demanding that they do what is right in these circumstances and launch a full public inquiry into the safety of helicopters operating within UK airspace with the aim of improving helicopter safety."
Clive Garner, Partner

The Transport Committee last year launched a review into the operations of offshore helicopters in the North Sea, but Irwin Mitchell’s experts believe a much wider investigation is now needed.

Expert Opinion
While the review into the safety of offshore helicopter operations is certainly necessary, there are wider and more fundamental issues which need to be investigated.

"We have also reiterated our call for a review of current and pending regulations to ensure that black box FDR and CVR equipment is required to be fitted to all commercial passenger carrying helicopters operating in UK airspace. In the Clutha Vaults tragedy, we have a sophisticated twin engine helicopter that crashed into a city but there is no black box evidence to assist the investigators and quickly identify the cause of this astonishing accident. The police helicopter was not required to carry this equipment because the applicable rule exempts helicopters which weigh less than 3,175kg.

"In our letter to the transport ministers we have suggested that the exemption weight limits be significantly reduced to ensure more aircraft are fitted with this equipment, which would provide vital information at the early stages of an air accident investigation. Such a change to the rules would be a clear and certain step that could quickly assist future air accident investigations and improve the safety of helicopter operations in UK airspace."
Clive Garner, Partner

Irwin Mitchell’s continuing campaign regarding helicopter safety has come months after similar lobbying work on behalf of the families of British passengers killed in the Sita Air crash in Nepal in September 2012, which led to a ban on the country’s airlines flying in EU airspace.