Defence has suspended flying operations of Army and RAN’s 47 Airbus MRH-90 Taipans as a “safety precaution”.
The fleet, flown by 808 Squadron, has been grounded after an issue was discovered relating to the “application of the helicopter’s maintenance policy” in the aircraft’s IT support system.
“Defence and Airbus Australia Pacific are currently working collaboratively to remediate this issue,” a Defence spokesperson said.
“Work continues to end this suspension as soon as possible. Army and Navy aviation will continue to support their exercise and operational commitments with Tiger, Chinook, Black Hawk and Sea Hawk helicopters.”
This is the latest in a series of technical incidents associated with the Taipan’s operation.
In 2019, a tail rotor vibration forced the MRH-90 helicopters based at HMAS Albatross to be grounded.
This followed a precautionary landing on HMAS Adelaide from an Army MRH-90 a fortnight earlier, prompting officials to temporary suspend the entire fleet.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) again listed the MRH program (AIR 9000 Phase 2, 4 and 6) as a “project of concern” in its 2019-20 Defence Major Projects report.
“The project was placed on the list in November 2011 due to contractor performance relating to significant technical issues preventing the achievement of milestones on schedule,” the ANAO reported.
The ANAO added there remains an “ongoing inability” to meet materiel capability delivery milestones and performance criteria relating to the Taipan’s gun mount, aero-medical evacuation equipment and the Common Mission Management System.
The AIR 9000 project was required to draw upon contingency funds in 2019-20, with $26.3 million committed for “supportability and performance risks”.
In December, the joint committee of public accounts and audit called on Defence to commission a performance review or independent external audit of the entire helicopter acquisition program in lieu of concerns raised by the ANAO.
“The committee is of the view that Defence would benefit from a review being undertaken on their helicopter acquisitions, especially as Navy and Army acquire new helicopters as part of their fleet,” the parliamentary committee observed.
“This could be conducted by an independent auditor, the Auditor-General, or by a similar appropriately qualified entity.”
The MRH-90 Taipan, which first entered service in 2017, has been described by Defence as a “fly-by-wire, all-composite construction, troop-lift helicopter” with the “highest crash-worthy standards”.
The helicopter is built with a large cabin, a rear ramp, weather radar and infra-red technology.
The Taipan has a max speed of 300km/h with a range of 800 kilometres.