For one third of the year, the Icelandic Coast Guard has only one helicopter crew on duty, RÚV reports. Yesterday morning the helicopter could not be manned to respond to a serious accident due to staff illness. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson says the situation is unacceptable and wants to increase the number of helicopter pilots.
One or two crews on duty
A serious traffic accident occurred under the Eyjafjöll mountain range in South Iceland just after 11:00 AM yesterday morning. One person was in the car and they were transported to the National University Hospital in Reykjavík for treatment. Since it was not possible to man the helicopter crew, the injured person had to be transported by ambulance – making the trip one and a half hours longer than it would have been by helicopter.
Ásgeir Erlendsson, communications officer of the Icelandic Coast Guard, says that for two thirds of the year, the Coast Guard has two crews on call, but for one third of the year, there is just a single crew on duty. In the past, illness or other staffing challenges have been solved by calling in staff who were off duty. That was, however, not possible yesterday.
Plans to hire more pilots
The situation that occurred yesterday morning is not acceptable, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson told reporters. “Such incidents should not occur and we will try to do everything we can to prevent this from happening again,” he stated. Jón pointed out that the government budget outlines an increase in funding to the Coast Guard so that the number of shifts can be increased from six to seven. The government updated the helicopter fleet last year and the number of crews was increased from five to six. “It is no secret that with more crews it would be possible to increase the response capacity even further,” Ásgeir stated.
Unrelated to wage dispute
The Coast Guard’s pilots have been without a valid collective agreement for almost two and a half years. The pilots assert that complying with the Ministry of Finance’s requirements would impact aviation safety. The Ministry has denied those claims. The manning of the helicopter crew yesterday is unrelated to the wage dispute.