Across the pond last week, the European Aviation Safety Agency reportedly ordered a slew of safety checks on a type of rotor-wing aircraft that is currently utilized by various air ambulance services based in the United Kingdom.A fault in the body of the helicopter — one that could potentially lead to crashes if not addressed– was recently discovered in a specific helicopter used by a Scottish air ambulance.
The initial find by Bond Air Services consisted of a crack located on the main rotor hub of an EC135 Eurocopter. Upon learning of the anomaly, the EASA has mandated pre-flight checks for related safety issues on all EC135 until their full investigation into the problem is concluded.
The EASA claims that the underlying condition, if not corrected early on, could lead to advanced crack propagation, “possibly resulting in main rotor hub failure and consequent loss of the helicopter.”
A write-up by the EASA mentioned that an engineering and lab survey discovered that deformed pins may be to blame for the crack. The “safety pins” are used to secure blade bolts, and their deformation may have caused the blade bolts to rotate.
The agency also claims that the crack problem could affect the Eurocopter EC635. These helicopters are used for military operations by Switzerland, Jordan, and Iraq.
Eurocopter initiated a special inspection of the entire fleet of EC135s worldwide, including EC135s being used as air ambulances, and found that the crack discovered in the rotor hub on the Scottish helicopter is the only such occurrence in the 15 years since the first EC135 was manufactured.
There are about 1,000 total EC135 Eurocopters in action around the world. Many an air ambulance service makes use of the helicopter for their particular aptness to air medical operations in Scotland and the surrounding UK. Besides air medical transport purposes, the helicopters are also widely used for business and private air charters.
The EC135 also fills a rather unique role in the maintenance of offshore turbine wind energy farms. No, the helicopters don’t produce wind for the power plants, but they do assist in the transportation of trained personnel and high-tech equipment needed to keep the wind turbines producing at full power. The EC135 was specifically selected for this role due to its performance record and winch capabilities.
Bond Air Services, the company that operates the EC 135s used by Scottish Ambulance Service, alerted the air ambulance service immediately after they detected the crack during a regular maintenance check.
Again, no further cracks have been found on any EC135 aircraft at this time. The safety checks are simply a precaution.
The Scottish Ambulance Service has said that its helicopters are “safe and serviceable.” The organization also maintains two fixed-wing air ambulances for long-distance air medical operations.
The company provides a vital air ambulance service to Scotland and surrounding islands, providing access to rapid medical transportation as well as access to advanced healthcare facilities on the mainland.