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Editorial: May-June 2015

Much has been written about the state of the Canadian helicopter fleet, particularly when it comes to military and government-owned assets utilized for critical missions both within Canadian borders and abroad.


May 6, 2015
By Matt Nicholls

Much has been written about the state of the Canadian helicopter fleet, particularly when it comes to military and government-owned assets utilized for critical missions both within Canadian borders and abroad. The news regarding fleet renewals hasn’t always been positive, though some recent developments may be turning the tide – especially when it comes to the Canadian Coast Guard.

On the negative side of the ledger, ongoing delays with the Maritime Helicopter Project and the CH-148 Cyclone – the federal government’s answer to replacing the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) aging Sea Kings – have been documented at length in the pages of Helicopters and the mainstream media, highlighting a flawed procurement process and mismanagement on many levels.

And while minor progress is allegedly being made – Sikorsky president Mick Maurer told journalists at Heli Expo 2015 in Orlando, Fla., two more Cyclones will be joining the fleet of four currently at 12 Wing Shearwater, N.B. this year and the aircraft will finally take to the skies – it has been challenging to see the bright side of this program for those concerned with maritime safety. Obviously, some form of resolution must happen soon – former defence minister Peter McKay called it the “worst procurement in the history of Canada” – not only for the men and women who rely on these aircraft in critical maritime environs but for all Canadians. As taxpayers, we deserve better.

While Canada’s Maritime Helicopter Program continues to move at a glacier-like pace, the acquisition by the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) of new Bell 429 and 412 EPI aircraft over the next few years to replenish its aging fleet, is a positive sign that helicopter fleet renewal is of critical importance to the federal government going forward – and the process can indeed work.

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Under terms of the two deals signed last May and in June of this year, the CCG will replace its fleet of MBB BO-105s helicopters manufactured between 1983 and 1987 by the Eurocopter Group, (now Airbus Helicopters) with 15 light-lift model 429 helicopters and seven Bell 412EPI medium-lift helicopters.

The first 429 was delivered in March with the 412s joining the fleet beginning in June of next year (see, “New CCG Deal Benefits Canadians: Bell.” pg. 6).

“What is exciting for me is the fact that we are manufacturing helicopters and selling them to a group here at home,” Raymond Leduc, president of Bell Helicopter Textron Canada in Mirabel, Que. told Helicopters. “The critical thing about the two deals is they replenish a service essential to Canadians from coast-to-coast. I was joking because, in some ways, it’s not really business – it’s personal. We are providing Canadians with the tools they need to do vital jobs. For us, it’s truly a source of pride.”

With the 412, the CCG gets a proven workhorse with a capable, rugged platform that has been utilized by similar organizations around the world. It is well-suited to performing in harsh environments, indicative of the Canadian environs, and has the technological tools to help pilots enhance situational awareness and therefore, safety.

As Leduc points out, it moves the CCG to the next level of helicopter use – modern machines capable of handing all aspects of critical missions. The deal is also a win for the Mirabel, Que. site. The 412 is manufactured there, and the contract helps to support the growing aerospace footprint in Quebec.

The Bell CCG deal was not without some controversy. Other OEMs were critical of the procurement process noting that it offered Bell an unfair advantage, but Leduc does not agree.

“It was fair, it was open, it was transparent,” he said. “The first 429 left here on schedule, on budget, on spec and on time for such a major piece of equipment. This is a model of a procurement done right. A fair bidding process is the first step, delivering on time is the second step, and the third is ensuring the customer is supported. We have a reputation in the industry of doing just that.”

Establishing a game plan that meets all client expectations. Let’s hope future procurements of fleet renewals and aviation assets in all key sectors, both on the helicopter and fixed wing sides of the ledger, achieve a similar result as this one has. As Canadians, we should expect – and demand – nothing less.


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