The current position is that an Alouette 111 single engined helicopter is based at Waterford. This aircraft because of its visual contact flight conditions, daylight only restricted range, is not particularly suited for offshore marine emergency helicopter cover. It is, however, well suited for mountain, cliff and close-in marine search and rescue operations conducted by daylight in visual contact flight conditions.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Alouette is in replacement on a temporary basis of the Dauphin which crashed on Tramore beach on 2 July 1999 with the tragic loss of four crewmen.
I am conscious of the need to urgently upgrade the current unsuitable SAR helicopter service in Waterford and have pursued with my colleague, the Minister for Defence, how this might be achieved. We have now commenced negotiations on a contract for the early provision of a new dedicated all-weather, night flying, medium lift helicopter capacity at Waterford. This provision will be an interim arrangement pending a more permanent placing of a fully suitable service in Waterford. The Department has also commenced the contract procedures for the acquisition on contract of the latter service. My Department is currently in negotiation with the Department of Finance in regard to the provision of finance for these helicopter search and rescue improvements.
I am not in a position at the moment to put any precise date on when the replacement will be in place although it is my hope that the necessary finance will become available and the aircraft will be operational early next year.