Deputy John Deasy says Waterford Airport’s importance as a Search and Rescue (SAR) base has been underlined by call-out figures over the past three years — particularly night-time helicopter missions.
The Fine Gael TD cited the number of emergencies the crew has been tasked to over the 2010–2012 period as clear evidence of the facility’s critical presence on the Southeast and South coast. It was the second busiest base after Shannon.
It’s three years since a cabinet proposal to limit and reduce the Irish Coast Guard 24-hour SAR operation at Waterford to daylight hours only, resulted in a public outcry — forcing a row-back by the then Minister.
The case for maintaining round-the-clock cover at Waterford has been cemented since the aborted move to cut back the helicopter service to a 12-hour one was aired in March 2010.
The value of the Killowen facility was confirmed in figures gleaned from the Department of Transport in reply to a recent Dáil question by Mr Deasy (see tables below).
“The recommendation made three years ago was based on a very low 2008 call-out rate for the Waterford helicopter. It’s clear now that that figure was an aberration. The call-out statistics since have shown that had cover been curtailed it would have been a mistake — and it would have probably cost lives,” Mr Deasy says.
He noted that call-outs have been fairly evenly spread between the four SAR bases around the coastline, “indicating that Waterford as a location, like the others, has been pretty much spot on”, covering an area stretching from south Wicklow through to Glandore and 50 miles southwards.
The service has been run on a 24/7 basis since 2002, responding to well over 1,000 taskings and saving many lives. Indeed, while filming for the RTÉ series ‘Rescue 117’ in 2010, the Waterford crew conducted 18 separate rescue missions on camera.
Mr Deasy concluded: “The numbers prove a 24/7 emergency response from Waterford is essential and that the SAR helicopter must remain at the regional airport.”