Airport closure restricts Garda chopper’s range

The closure of Carnmore Airport and its refuelling facility has led to restrictions on the operation of the Garda helicopter in Galway.

Volunteers involved in the search for a missing person along the Galway coastline earlier this month were told the flight time for the Garda chopper was reduced because refuelling in Galway was not an option.

Garda headquarters in Dublin have refused to comment, saying they “do not comment on operational matters”.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transport – which oversees Coast Guard operations – has said Search and Rescue operations in Galway have not been affected by the airport’s closure.

Talks are ongoing between the Chief Executives of the City and County Councils and representatives of Carnmore Aviation Ltd, which had been operating services at the airport until last December, when its lease expired.

A meeting took place last Thursday, at which “good progress” was made.

The two helicopters in the Garda Air Support Unit are operated by Air Corps pilots from Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Dublin.

Earlier this month, the chopper took part in a search operation along the Galway coastline after travelling from Baldonnel, but searchers were told its flight time was restricted as no refuelling facility was available here.

Separately, the Department of Transport has said Coast Guard Search and Rescue (SAR) operations here are not affected by the lack of refuelling facility.

Following a series of queries from the Connacht Tribune, a spokesperson said: “Lack of refuelling facilities at Galway airport has not affected SAR operations adversely in the Galway area due to the range, endurance and speed of Sikorsky S92 helicopters, as refuelling facilities at Shannon are so close (30 miles or 12 minutes flying time between both locations).

“Sligo SAR helicopter has used refuelling facilities at Galway on a number of occasions last year, mostly to top up fuel tank on the completion of missions to Galway Hospital, Galway Airport being the nearest point to refuel for the return journey to Sligo base. Shannon refuelling facilities are 30 miles distant from Galway.

“Other instances where Sligo SAR helicopter has used Galway refuelling facilities is when on exercise and receive a tasking and Galway is nearer to refuel rather than returning to Shannon or Sligo to refuel.

“An example of an instance of diverting to Shannon for fuel rather than Galway for the Sligo SAR helicopter would be long range missions off the WNW coast.

“In this specific example, there would be a slight reduction in range or time on scene for the Sligo helicopter as the spare deck for the S92 would be Shannon, not Galway which is an additional distance of 30 miles or 12 minutes flying time,” the spokesperson said.