Pilots’ association criticises proposal as cherry-picking part of a €62.5m contract

An Air Corps bid to provide some search and rescue services for Irish Coast Guard could cost civilian jobs and is unlikely to deliver the advantages claimed in the proposal, a leading aviation union warns.

The corps recently proposed to the Department of Transport that it provide search and rescue for the east coast when the contract for the entire service, now provided by CHC Ireland, is renewed in 2023.

However, the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (IALPA) says the proposal would result in a significant number of the 120-plus people employed by CHC losing their jobs.

Capt Evan Cullen, IALPA president, said on Friday that media reports indicated that the Air Corps wanted to cherry pick part of the €62.5 million search and rescue contract for itself.

“If these media reports are correct, this cherry picking will have a substantial impact on the jobs and livelihoods of our members and the other 100-plus employees of CHC,” he warned.

Capt Cullen’s organisation represents the 39 pilots employed by CHC to provide the service to the Irish Coast Guard.


Long service

While several companies have had the contract since it was first put to tender in 1998, EU rules ensured that staff transferred to each new employer, so have built up long service.

The pilots’ association wants the Air Corps’s 400-page submission to the Department of Transport, proposing that it be given charge of the east coast service, to be published to allow full debate on the issue.

Capt Cullen dismissed as “simplistic and ill informed” the Air Corps argument that its plan had extra benefits, as the State would buy the helicopters needed rather than leasing them, as CHC does.

He said there were sound commercial reasons for leasing. Aircraft maintenance and depreciation costs increase as they age. Capt Cullen said the owner and lessee shared the risk of these costs.

The trade union leader added that the Air Corps and Department of Defence “should know” the problems associated with aircraft depreciation and maintenance.

In 2014, controversy blew up over revelations that the cost of maintaining the then government jet hit €1.34 million in 2014, more than three times the €400,000 estimated by the department.

The State sold the ageing Gulfstream jet the following year for €418,000, against its stated value of €952,000. The Department of Defence took a €534,000 loss on the deal.

Capt Cullen also argued that the Air Corps did not have the expertise or resources to meet civilian EU standards for helicopter emergency medical services or search and rescue, as it operates to Irish military standards.

Neither the Defence Forces nor the Department of Transport, which will be responsible for awarding the contract, would comment.