Air ambulances cleared to fly again

Air ambulances grounded over safety fears have been given permission to fly again.

Flights of 22 Eurocopter EC 135 helicopters, including 16 air ambulances, were suspended as a precaution by operator Bond Air Services following the discovery of a fault in an air ambulance in Scotland last month.

A crack was discovered on the main rotor hub, prompting a safety warning by the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa). But Bond said that after discussions with manufacturer Eurocopter, flights would resume on Wednesday.

Earlier, Bond said Eurocopter had advised pre and post-flight checks after the fault was discovered but that Bond had decided to halt flights as a precaution until further notice on safety grounds.

About 1,000 EC 135s are in use around the world, including air ambulance services in England, Scotland and Wales.

In England, the model is in use at Thames Valley and Chiltern; North West; Midlands; Dorset and Somerset; Hampshire and Isle of Wight; and Devon, according to the Association of Air Ambulances.

West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) said that following further testing by Eurocopter, Bond agreed to restart flights and that daily checks will be carried out on the potentially affected area until they are replaced by Eurocopter.

WMAS said it had already made contingency plans to cover for the three EC 135s run by the Midlands Air Ambulance charity, while two helicopters run in the area by the Air Ambulance Service remained in service.

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: "Safety has to be the number one consideration for both patients and staff and we understand why Bond took the decision they did. Clearly it is good news that we will be back up to the full complement of five aircraft."

Bond Air Services said it took the decision to resume flights after receiving "an unequivocal guarantee" from Eurocopter that the EC 135 was safe to fly. He added that investigation of the problem would continue in order to find a permanent solution.