Clutha: AAIB Update Highlights Need For Action On Black-Box Regulations

Lawyers Also Urge Investigators To Work Quickly To Release Final Accident Report


Specialist lawyers representing injured victims and families of those killed in the Clutha police helicopter tragedy have warned the latest update on investigations into the crash shows the clear need for action on regulations regarding the requirement to install black box equipment on such aircraft, and all other commercial passenger carrying helicopters that are currently exempt from this requirement.

An update issued by the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) related to the incident in Glasgow on November 29th last year has outlined how “significant work” was needed to extract information from systems on board the Eurocopter EC 135 involved, due to it not being fitted with flight data (FDR) or cockpit voice recorder (CVR) equipment used on larger aircraft.

The AAIB is expecting to now issue the final report on the tragedy in the middle of 2015.

Irwin Mitchell Scotland, working alongside colleagues in Irwin Mitchell’s Aviation Law team, is acting for 17 people including relatives of those who died and others injured during the crash and has repeatedly called for current laws which exempt helicopters below a certain weight from carrying black box equipment, to be urgently reviewed.

The legal experts, who are in negotiations with the lawyers of the flight operator Bond regarding settlements, also wrote to both the UK and Scottish Parliaments earlier this year for a public inquiry into commercial helicopter safety in general.

Expert Opinion
Current regulations on the fitting of FDR and CVR, or black box, equipment exempt helicopters weighing less than 3,175kg from having to carry this equipment – which, as this tragedy and the latest update from the AAIB demonstrates, can make the job for the accident investigators much more challenging and cause significant delays in finding out the cause of accidents.

"This in turn leads to delays in providing answers to the loved ones of those affected, as well as affecting whether lessons can be learned and measures implemented to improve flight safety.

"One year on and all of our clients remain frustrated and desperate for answers regarding how this terrible tragedy happened. It is staggering that both engines on a modern helicopter appear to have been starved of fuel when there was fuel remaining in the fuel tank – it is thus crucial that the reasons for this are understood as quickly as possible to prevent a similar accident from happening again. Had the helicopter been fitted with a FDR and CVR, the AAIB would have had much more real time evidence of the chain of events leading to the crash, which could have assisted them in determining the causes in a far shorter time frame.

"It is simply unacceptable that modern helicopters used by commercial operators and emergency services are not required to be equipped with technology which could have such a significant effect on improving safety of helicopter operations, as well as ensure that those affected by such tragedies are able to be given the answers they clearly deserve.

"It is pleasing that the European Air Safety Agency (EASA) is currently collating recommendations for its ‘Rule Making Programme’ and as part of the work is looking at the extension of FDR/ CVR carriage requirements to helicopters weighing less than 3,175 kg, but we hope that EASA and the UK government will work quickly to ensure that that the regulations are promptly changed so that all commercial passenger carrying helicopters are required to be fitted with black box equipment."
Jim Morris, Partner