Wednesday, January 11, 2017

RCAF grounds Cyclone helicopters due to potential safety issues

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

The Canadian Forces has grounded its Cyclone helicopters after aerospace firm Sikorsky issued a worldwide notice for safety checks to be conducted on the aircraft’s civilian variant.

The Sikorsky notice to ground all S-92 helicopters followed an incident last month on a North Sea oil platform. Operators of the aircraft are being told to carry out immediate checks on the tail rotor section of the helicopters.

The Royal Canadian Air Force’s Cyclone helicopters are a variant of the S-92.

The number of Cyclones in Canada fluctuates depending on the testing schedule at 12 Wing Shearwater, NS and other evaluations conducted by Sikorsky. At this point there are five Cyclones in Canada, said Capt. Peter Ryan, spokesman for 12 Wing Shearwater.

It is not known how long the aircraft will be grounded. “Our inspectors will work with the Sikorsky folks and that will determine how long this will take,” Ryan noted. “Obviously we want to resume as soon as possible.”

During the oil platform incident Dec. 28 in the North Sea, a S-92 experienced technical issues as it was coming in for a landing. The helicopter left “significant gouge marks” on the deck of the platform, a BBC report noted.

The aerospace firm has issued a statement noting that, “Safety is our top priority, and Sikorsky is working closely with our customer and investigative authorities.”

“We are committed to keeping our customers informed,” it added. We will further communicate findings if the investigation reveals any safety or airworthiness issues that affect the S-92 helicopter fleet.”

In 2009 a S-92 crashed off the coast of Newfoundland, killing 17 people. The helicopter was transporting personnel to the White Rose oil fields and the Hibernia platform.

In October the Canadian military announced that a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter was involved in its first Royal Canadian Navy exercise as the helicopter continued to undergo testing and evaluation.

Canada has ordered 28 Cyclones but the program has been hit with continual delays. The aircraft are not expected to be fully operational until 2021.

Sikorsky was supposed to deliver the Cyclones to the Canadian military starting in November 2008. Deliveries of all 28 aircraft, to replace the air force’s Sea Kings, were to be completed by early 2011.

The Conservative government looked at cancelling the program but decided to instead re-negotiate the contract with Sikorksy. It laid blame on the Liberals for the problem procurement because the Cyclone contract was awarded by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin’s government in 2004. The Conservatives also pointed out that the Liberal Chretien government had also cancelled the EH-101 helicopter program, kicking off a new procurement that led to the eventual purchase of the Cyclones.

The Liberals, however, have countered that the mismanagement occurred under Conservative watch, adding that there were substantial penalties in the original contract the Conservative government did not enforce.

Government documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen show that the Conservative government could have hit Sikorsky with up to $89 million in fines for missing its deadlines but it decided to waive those penalties.

Instead the government renegotiated with Sikorsky and under a new deal, Canada is paying the U.S. aerospace firm $117 million extra for improvements to be made to the Cyclone, as well as changes to the long-term in-service support package for the aircraft.

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