Vauxhall helicopter crash a 'wake up call'

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Media captionHelicopter crash report

On the surface, the report into the Vauxhall helicopter crash is pretty stark.

Pilot error is blamed in the official report by the Air Accidents Investigation Bureau for the collision in south London that led to the death of two people including the pilot.

The phrase in the industry is the pilot was "overloaded". The pilot, Pete Barnes, may have been distracted by changing the radio frequency and should not have been in cloud so close to the tower when he hit the crane.

However, what is also very interesting is the policy gaps that exist in the planning of tall towers and helicopters. This will cause concern to many Londoners, especially those living along the Thames, as it is one of the main thoroughfares for helicopters.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has no input into planning decisions on tall buildings apart from in safeguarded areas around airports.

The councils are under no obligation to inform the CAA if they give the go-ahead to a tall tower.

Image copyright Victor Jimenez

Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, has called the situation "laissez-faire" and says the crash is a "wake-up call" and has called on the processes to be tightened up.

Flying rules mean pilots should stay 500ft (150m) away from tall structures - known as Rule 5.

But because of the number of large towers along the Thames, a situation has now arisen where helicopters cannot pass both ways at the same time. To obey the 500ft rule helicopters have to zig-zag down the river.

The report also says that while buildings were under construction, air traffic controllers may have been giving incorrect guidance to helicopters and they may have been breaking Rule 5. That means air traffic controllers could have been telling helicopters to go within 500ft of tall buildings.

If that has been the case it is very clear the current procedures do not work.

With the growth in the number of high towers along the Thames, the report is calling for a tightening of those procedures.

How to do that now rests with the Department for Transport but helicopters and high rise buildings are under intense scrutiny.

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