Australia lifts suspension on helicopters

June 1, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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CANBERRA, Australia, June 1 (UPI) -- The Australian army's fleet of Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters is flying regular training duties after a suspension earlier this month.

The suspension was put in place following the detection of fumes in the cockpit of the aircraft.

The Army Operational Airworthiness Authority lifted the suspension following a detailed assessment and a recommendation from the Technical Airworthiness Authority to resume flying operations, the Australian Department of Defense said.

The army has 22 Tigers, 19 of which are flying operationally in the fully capable configuration and used for training purposes. The remaining three aircraft are completing a retrofit program and should return to the fleet later in the year, the Department of Defense said.

On June 21 the Tigers take part in the army's three-week Exercise Hamel, its largest annual war-fighting exercise which will be conducted in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area, the Defense Department said.

Australia, along with France, Germany and Spain, is one of the primary users of the Tiger. The Australian army's aircraft are made by Australian Aerospace, a division of Eurocopter and which delivered the last of the 22 Tiger helicopters to the army at the company's final assembly plant at Brisbane Airport in December.

Australian Aerospace won the $2 billion Project AIR 87 contract in 2001. The Tigers are to replace the military's Bell UH-1-H Iroquois "Bushranger" gunships and Bell OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters.

The first four of the two-seat lightweight helicopters were manufactured in France, with the rest assembled in Brisbane.

Australian Aerospace has said it invested $40 million in production lines for the Tiger program, which created 220 jobs.

The Department of Defense also is in the process of buying another Eurocopter and Australian Aerospace helicopter, the MRH90.

But in November the government moved the $4 billion contract for 46 MRH90 helicopters onto its list of major defense projects suffering severe delivery delays.

The six MRH90 choppers were two years behind schedule, the Department of Defense said at the time.

Last June, Sikorsky announced that the U.S. Navy is selling advanced 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters to the Australian navy. The Seahawks come with associated training and logistical support through the U.S. government's Foreign Military Sales program, Sikorsky said.

The first two are expected to be delivered in 2014 by Team Romeo which includes Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., and Lockheed Martin.

The companies are being joined by engine manufacturer GE Aviation, sonar and sensor provider Raytheon and training and simulator provider CAE for the Australian deal, Sikorsky said.

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