During the time that we were waiting to post last week’s blog (regarding the sudden grounding of many EC135 helicopters after a crack found in the rotor hub of a single helicopter), we received news that the previously grounded EC135 air ambulances we discussed in a recent article have been officially cleared to fly again by many air ambulance services across the United Kingdom.
Following the conclusion of thorough safety inspections across the entire Eurocopter EC135 fleet, vital air ambulances in Scotland, Wales, and areas of Great Britain can now return to the skies and resume providing life-saving services.
We at Air Ambulance Weekly are glad to hear of this new development, and are especially glad that these air ambulance crews are able to the skies in these high-tech aircraft once again. For more information on the prior safety concern with this specific helicopter model, the original blog post follows below:
Additional EC135 Air Ambulances Grounded as a Precaution
More EC135 helicopters have been grounded due to safety concerns surrounding a possible fault with the main rotor hub. You may recall that we first blogged about this safety concern about a month ago, when news of the first EC135 groundings emerged.
Many air ambulance companies use the EC135 as an emergency response aircraft, including air ambulances in England, Scotland, and other regions around the United Kingdom. EC135s are also used widely in the United States, China, Germany, Austria, Switzerland Jordan, and, notably, Denmark, who uses them in a specialized role for maintaining wind farms.
Here in the United States, the EC135 (by American Eurocopter) is the twin-engine market leader for EMS. According to Eurocopter’s USA site, the EC135 has been responsible for approximately 60 percent of EMS deliveries over the past few years. It is also used extensively for air charter service.
The model is also used by U.S. law enforcement, notably the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, who have outfitted the EC135 with night vision and infrared systems as well as firefighting capability.
Two of the most recent helicopters that have been grounded belonged to an air ambulance based in Wales.
These aircraft can not be expected to return to the skies over the UK until more thorough safety inspections take place.
A short while ago, mechanics discovered a crack on the rotor during unrelated maintenance of an EC135 air ambulance. Bond Air Services, the company that owned the model with the rotor crack, reported it to the manufacturer, Eurocopter.
Rotor cracking has only been discovered on a single EC135 so far (out of over 1000 that have been produced since the early 1990s). However, it took only the discovery of that single crack for EC135 operators to begin grounding the aircraft as a precaution before aviation authorities could even make it a requirement to do so.
Editor’s Note: We at Air Ambulance Weekly think the proactive responses of these companies demonstrate the personal responsbility, humanity, and genuine care for patients and employees that the best air ambulance services have.
Amidst the safety concerns, we’d like to reiterate that since the cracking was discovered only on a single aircraft, the grounding of these helicopters is simply a precaution while more thorough checks are completed. No accidents or flight incidents of any kind involving cracking of the EC135 rotor have been reported.
Nevertheless, the grounded aircraft will need to be fully inspected and put through extensive paces to make sure they are absolutely safe for air ambulance patients and crews before they can return to service. The main concern of the EASA seems to be that if there is an underlying fault with the rotors on this specific model, advanced cracking could occur over time; ultimately resulting in aircraft failure.
The EC135 is a modern, twin-engined light utility chopper whose lifting capabilities and extended operating range make it ideal for use by air ambulance services.
Comparable to the AW109 and the Bell 427/429, the EC135 has been one of the best choices for air ambulance services for years. Some investigators have speculated that deformed “safety pins” used to secure the blades to the main rotor hub could have shifted from their original positions and been to blame for the crack; however, this is not yet certain.
We will keep you updated with any new developments we hear of regarding these safety checks, and hope that these air ambulances can return to service soon.