Defence ministry cuts helicopter flights in half over costs

Defence ministry cuts helicopter flights in half over costs
The NH-90 TTH used by the Belgian services. © Airbus

The defence ministry has ordered the number of flights by four transport helicopters to be cut in half because the aircraft are too expensive to maintain, the VRT reports.

The four NH-90 helicopters in the TTH or tactical troop helicopter version were bought by the government five years ago for €30 million each. The helicopter is approved by NATO, and constructed by the NHIndustries partnership made up of Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters and Fokker Aerostructures.

However the defence ministry under Philippe Goffin (MR) has found that one hour of flight of the NH-90 costs no less than €12,000. And the aircraft break down so often the services do not have enough personnel to keep them flight-worthy.

The hourly cost is more than double the €5,000 an hour it cost to run the NH-90’s predecessor, the Sea King. Belgium’s last three Sea Kings were decommissioned in 2019 after 40 years of service.

The ministry has now decided to cut the number of hours the helicopters are in the air from the previous target of 1,000 hours to 600. It will also commission a study to look at what might be done with the helicopters to obtain the optimum value for the cost. One option, the VRT reports, would be to get rid of them altogether.

The cut in hours does not, however, affect the four NH-90s in service with the navy, which are an adapted version of the transport aircraft. Those helicopters are used for air-sea rescue operations from the base at Koksijde, and will continue to operate as before.

The problems with the NH-90s are not new. In 2018 three of the four air-sea rescue craft had to be returned to NHIndustries for repairs to the radar systems, leaving only one in service. When that one also had to be grounded for servicing, Belgium’s neighbours temporarily had to step in to ensure a rescue service in Belgian waters.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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