THE CLUTHA tragedy could have been avoided if a modification had been made to the helicopter that kept a fuel pump on, a senior aviation operations executive has said.

Ten died when the Eurocopter EC135 police helicopter crashed through the roof of the bar in November, 2013.

In October 2015 a report from the Air Accident Investigations Branch revealed pilot error and found fuel pumps were turned off and that it flew on despite low fuel warnings.

David Price, who was at the time director of engineering with helicopter operators Bond Air Services, giving evidence to a fatal accident inquiry, said the disaster could have been prevented if an alteration had been made to the aircraft which automatically switched on its forward fuel transfer pump in the event of a red low fuel warning.

He said: "Had this been in place for this accident, I suggest that it would have prevented it.

READ MORE: Airbus 'put on hold' solution' to EC135 safety concerns on day of Clutha tragedy

"A detailed assessment would have to be done especially on such a critical area of the aircraft."

Asked by Peter Gray, representing the aviation group Babcock if he was willing to share his expertise and experience to work with the manufacturers on the idea, he said: "Yes, absolutely."

The inquiry previously heard Mr Price, now the head of maintenance and engineering with the Babcock Aviation Group had alerted Eurocopter Deutschland, run by Airbus, and France-based engine manufacturers Turbomeca that there were issues with water contaminating the fuel supply of the EC135 in 2003, 10 years before the crash.

An email he sent to Kelly Brookes of Eurocopter in June 2013, revealed his concerns over the lack of action by Eurocopter and Turbomeca over his flight safety concerns.

He wrote that the issues had been ongoing for ten years and added that "we are extremely unhappy with the lack of attention and priority this subject has been given by ECD [Eurocopter Deutschland] and TM [Turbomeca] especially when you look at the internal corrosion that occurs with the HMU (hydro mechanical unit) and the possible consequences thereof".

Asked whether it was an airworthiness safety issue he said: "Yes, potentially, yes."

Mr Price had previously said that he had raised his concerns to Eurocopter in 2003 but it was not until 2014, after the crash, that a 'final solution' air service bulletin was issued.

Mr Price introduced the modification idea after being asked how "the risk of human error can be removed" when red low fuel warning lights come on.

READ MORE: Airbus 'put on hold' solution' to EC135 safety concerns on day of Clutha tragedy

Roddy Dunlop QC for aeronautics firm Airbus, in discussing the modification idea, suggested to Mr Price that if the pump was automatically switched on, it could cause "further safety difficulties" for the aircraft.

Mr Price responded: "Not if it is protected to cover [certain] scenarios."

He suggested that this had been done on a new generation of Airbus helicopter, the H160.

Mr Dunlop told him that the new system had not been put into market yet.

Mr Price said: "I have been involved as a customer in the H160 while it was still a confidential project, so clearly Airbus have looked at this and for whatever reason they appear to have considered this option and whilst it is not certified today, that appears to be a line they are going down."

Mr Dunlop added: "We are agreed that we are dealing with a responsible manufacturer in Airbus, and that if something sensible, feasible and helpful is put forward by someone like yourself, it is highly likely that Airbus will take heed?"

Mr Price said: "Yes."

The inquiry also heard how Babcock issued a communication in January 2017 detailing mandatory changes to the fuel transfer pump switches in the cockpits of the EC135 models.

A Babcock memo stated that “as a result of ongoing investigations it has been considered necessary to make some changes,” adding that: “We need to differentiate between the fuel XFER and prime pump switches on the 12VE overhead panel in the company EC135 aircraft.

“Tactile switch covers will be installed to allow the pilot and crew to easily and quickly locate and determine the position of the XFER switches.”
Mr Price said it was a “group decision” following consultation with test pilots and the group’s design team. The changes, he added, made the switches “easier to identify.”

Pilot David Traill, 51; PC Tony Collins, 43; and PC Kirsty Nelis, 36, died along with seven customers who were in the bar, Gary Arthur, 48; Joe Cusker, 59; Colin Gibson, 33; Robert Jenkins, 61; John McGarrigle, 58; Samuel McGhee, 56; and Mark O'Prey, 44.
The inquiry at Hampden Park before Principal Sheriff Craig Turnbull continues.