“Availability is the challenge for MRH 90 and we at our expense have placed 35 additional people into Townsville at the start of this year to improve the availability,” Airbus Group Australia Pacific managing director Tony Fraser told media in Canberra on Tuesday.
“That makes a total of 41 [personnel] at company expense in Townsville, and that enables Defence to focus on maintaining the aircraft but also preparing for combat operations … and all the training activities that go with that, and [with] industry being able to provide a baseline level of availability of the aircraft.”
The Army and Navy have taken delivery of 45 of the 47 MRH 90 helicopters on order to replace the Army’s S-70A Black Hawks and the Navy’s now-retired Sea King. The first MRH 90s entered service in 2007 but the helicopter has struggled with technical immaturity and poor availability rates, with the program placed on Defence’s ‘projects of concern’ list in 2011 and then subject to a critical Australian National Audit Office report released in 2014.
With technical issues largely resolved Airbus Group Australia Pacific expects to hand over the final two MRH 90s in the August timeframe.
The MRH 90’s performance, Fraser said, is “exceptional”.
Instead, “The challenge for us is making sure that the cabin and utility equipment met the expectations of the troops, and we are a long way advanced in doing that.”
Fraser is an experienced Army helicopter pilot who retired from the service in 2011 as a Major General when he was Head Helicopter Systems Division within the then Defence Materiel Organisation.
“The primary challenge for MRH … is around the maintenance workload of a relatively new aircraft. So what we’ve done is to mitigate that maintenance workload by placing those personnel in,” Fraser continued.
“They cover everything from fleet planning, management, spares … and to providing some technical support in the unit”.
Fraser said Airbus expects to reduce the number of maintenance personnel at Townsville in time, “as we reduce the maintenance burden on the aircraft and on the unit.”
He expects some form of ongoing industry support to MRH 90 operations at Townsville, “but at the moment it is a commitment for two years and whilst we review the status for those.”