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Australia to retire Taipan helicopter fleet early after crash

Australia to retire Taipan helicopter fleet early after crash
A crewman aboard an Australian Army MRH-90 helicopter leans out of the aircraft as it kicks up sand upon landing at Langham Beach during Talisman Saber joint military exercises between Australia and the United States in northeast Australia, July 13, 2017.
PHOTO: Reuters file

SYDNEY — Australia said on Friday (Sept 29) it would retire its fleet of Taipan helicopters earlier than expected after a crash off its east coast in July during a joint military exercise with the United States killed four Australian aircrew.

The Taipan fleet will not return to flying operations before the previously planned withdrawal date of December 2024, Defence Minister Richard Marles said.

"Today's announcement does not presuppose or any way suggest the outcome of the investigations into the tragic incident," he said in a statement.

Australia in January said it would buy 40 Black Hawk military helicopters, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, for an estimated A$2.8 billion (S$1.36 billion).

The Black Hawks are set to replace the Australian army's fleet of Taipan helicopters, which have been plagued for years by maintenance issues. Australia had deployed 47 Taipans since their induction, Marles said.

"The first of the 40 Black Hawks that will replace the (Taipan) MRH-90 have arrived and are already flying in Australia. We are focused on seeing their introduction to service as quickly as possible," he added.

Taipans are made by France-based NHIndustries, jointly controlled by Airbus and Italy's Leonardo. Airbus and Leonardo did not respond immediately to requests to comment.

Norway last year said it would return the NH90 military helicopters it ordered from NHIndustries because they were either unreliable or delivered late, in a decision the manufacturer called "legally groundless".

Australia had grounded its Taipan fleet after the July crash into the ocean off the coast of Queensland state and said the helicopters would not fly again until the findings from a detailed investigation were published.

"What is now clear is that these investigations, there are four of them, will take some time, one of them has already said it will take a year," Marles told ABC television.

Marles acknowledged there would be "capability challenges" without an operational Taipan fleet and as defence waits for the delivery of more Black Hawks. The first three Black Hawks have arrived in Australia and started flying this month.

To help mitigate further impacts on defence, Marles said Australia had been exploring options to accelerate the delivery of Black Hawks and for aircrew training with allies, including the United States.

ALSO READ: 4 feared dead in Australia after military helicopter crashes

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