This was posted on Pprune. Makes for interesting reading. Wonder if it will play a role in the final decision.
CanWest News Service
December 23, 2003
OTTAWA - Canada's $800-million rescue helicopter fleet has suffered a litany of problems since its 1998 purchase, including radios and computers that regularly break down, a flawed de-icing system, a chronic shortage of spare parts, a search light so bright it temporarily blinds rescuers, airframe cracking and bearings that prematurely loosen.
At one point, Human Resources Development Canada threatened to padlock a hangar at Canadian Forces Base Comox on Vancouver Island over a worker safety issue.
In documents obtained by CanWest News Service, one Comox officer, Major Ryan LaPalm, described the Cormorant program as dysfunctional and warned of an "FS Molotov" -- a flight-safety Molotov cocktail.
Some of the problems relate to the introduction of a relatively unproven aircraft, and the use of a private-sector firm to do the maintenance, he said, but the concerns have no single source.
"Pointing fingers at individual elements is not going to fix things," Maj. LaPalm wrote a year ago. "The process of safely introducing the Cormorant across Canada is flawed and is not going to be fixed quickly.''
The safety and maintenance issues, and the frustrations of several officers involved in delivering and making operational the 15 Cormorants to bases across Canada, are expressed in more than 700 pages of e-mails.
Military officials said in interviews yesterday only an average of seven of the 15 helicopters are ready for operations at a given time, versus the target of 10 to 12.
It is also taking roughly 16.5 hours of repair and maintenance for every hour of flight, significantly higher than the ratio promised by manufacturer AgustaWestland. The Anglo-Italian firm is one of two companies bidding on the $3-billion contract to replace the Sea King maritime patrol helicopters, themselves plagued by safety issues.
The Cormorants, which started becoming operational in the summer of 2002, are currently stationed in Comox, Gander, Nfld., and Greenwood, N.S.
The worker safety issue at CFB Comox related to the failure, for more than a year, to comply with HRDC requirements to equip repair crew with an adequate harness or restraint system. Two workers with Halifax-based IMP, the firm that won the contract to repair and maintain the choppers, were injured in a fall in late 2002.
An HRDC officer named Lisa Mah "stated to me that, if IMP continues ... in non-compliance with legislation and 19 Wing Safety Policy, a padlock will be put on the doors of Hangar 14 to ensure compliance," wrote Ken Ilnitsky, a civilian safety officer at CFB Comox, on Nov. 18, 2002.
Lt.-Col. Grant Smith, senior search-and-rescue officer at the air force's operational headquarters in Winnipeg, said yesterday a harness system was installed in Comox about six months ago and at Gander two months ago. A similar system is being installed at Greenwood.
"We were aware of [hrDC's padlock threat] obviously and that's why we took the measures we did," Lt.-Col. Smith said.
Senior military officials stressed yesterday the Cormorant has performed superbly in rescue missions, including recent operations in B.C. and off Newfoundland.
While the aircraft has never been involved in a major accident, the military acknowledges some frustrations.
"There's some good news out there, but it's not surprising there's plenty of problems still to be worked on," Lt.-Col. Smith said. "It's one of these things where if you try and buy a new technology, sometimes the new technology is not mature."
While he said many problems cited in the e-mails have been resolved, he said other issues remain unresolved. The serious shortage of spare parts won't be fixed, he said, until sometime next spring. The struggle to obtain custom-made components from the manufacturer's headquarters in Italy is exacerbated because a number of parts and components are consistently wearing or breaking down long before their anticipated life span.
"We're not sure why something as simple as a radio is failing to meet our expectations, and the company is not either," Lt.-Col. Smith said.
The fourth Cormorant base in Trenton, Ont., which was delayed several times and was expected to become operational in the spring, now will not begin flying missions until next summer.
"I think, generally speaking, the guys absolutely love the helicopter," Lt.-Col. Smith said. "They wish that when it breaks down for whatever reason that the parts are immediately available."
One April, 2003, document obtained through Access to Information lists nine specific "significant safety concerns" involving the aircraft. The same document cites eight other "significant occurrences and hazard reports" over the past year involving the Cormorant.
In January, two flight safety officers expressed frustration with the aircraft's failure to live up to expectations in several areas.
"There are many issue papers ongoing where the a/c [aircraft] does not meet the required specs," wrote Major Brian MacDonald, now retired, to a colleague.
"It is a sad fact that DND-imposed timelines required us to initially accept deficiencies in the a/c. The impact of this acceptance continues to unfold as we operate the Cormorant."