PARIS (Reuters) – About 400 Australian aerospace support workers face redundancy after the government announced the retirement of a fleet of MRH90 Taipan military helicopters, the head of a European manufacturer told Reuters.
NHIndustries (NHI) President Axel Aloccio also dismissed any concerns that the decision to stop flying was linked to a safety issue following a fatal crash in July, saying that engineers no malfunction has been found so far in an Australian-led investigation.
“The MRH-90 Taipan workforce is highly skilled and defense is working with industry partners to ensure they are supported through the capability transition period,” an Australian defense ministry spokesman said.
Australia grounded its Taipan fleet after a coastal crash that killed four aircrew and said the helicopters would not fly again until the findings from a detailed investigation were published.
On Friday, Defense Minister Richard Marles said the fleet would not return to operations before the planned withdrawal date of December 2024, with investigations lasting until 2024.
“Today’s announcement does not anticipate or in any way suggest the outcome of the investigations into the tragic incident,” he said in a statement.
Aloccio, who also oversees the NH90 program at NHI’s main shareholder Airbus, struck a more specific note.
“At this stage of the investigation no particular technical issue has been identified and we do not believe that the safety of NH90 is at risk,” he said, adding that the official investigation is still ongoing.
Aloccio said support networks will no longer be needed as a result of the fleet’s withdrawal.
“The immediate concern is to support the 400 or so Australian aerospace workers who will be affected by this decision as we organize ourselves to support the Australian fleet until the end of next year,” he said. Alloccio.
“With this decision to anticipate the withdrawal of NH90 for a year, it will immediately affect 400 workers who may be poor as a result,” he said in a telephone interview.
Australia in January said it would buy 40 Black Hawk military helicopters, made by Lockheed Martin, for an estimated A$2.8 billion ($1.8 billion).
The Black Hawks are set to replace the Australian army’s Taipan, which has been plagued for years by maintenance issues.
Australia’s decision to stop flying the Taipans early is the latest setback for the European NH90 program after Norway and Sweden announced plans to cancel purchases.