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Feds to give Sikorsky another shot at saving CH-148 program?

Oct. 28, 2013, Ottawa - Department of National Defence officials are expecting the government to once again give a U.S. aerospace firm another chance to deliver aircraft to replace the military’s aging Sea King helicopters, according to DND documents.


October 28, 2013
By The Ottawa Citizen

Topics

DND officials are waiting for Public Works and Government
Services Canada to OK the necessary changes that would see the
acceptance of interim Cyclone helicopters from aircraft manufacturer
Sikorsky.

The company was supposed to deliver the Cyclones to the
Canadian military starting in November 2008. Deliveries of all 28
aircraft, to replace the air force’s Sea Kings, were to be completed by
early 2011. But Sikorsky has yet to turn over a single helicopter to
Canada and the $5-billion project has been saddled with various
problems.

Instead, Sikorsky is offering to provide Canada with
what the firm is calling interim helicopters; aircraft not fully
outfitted with all of the necessary equipment. It would then deliver
fully-compliant aircraft starting in 2015.

Senior government
officials, including deputy ministers at DND and Public Works, have been
meeting regularly since December 2011 with Sikorsky representatives to
pave the way for the delivery of the interim helicopters, according to
the DND briefing notes from December 2012 and February and March 2013.

Publicly,
the Conservative government has taken a hard-line — stating that it
won’t accept the interim helicopters because they don’t meet
specifications. Government officials also leaked out details to the news
media this summer about the possibility of buying a different
helicopter and scrapping the Cyclones.

Behind the scenes, however, it was a different story.

The
March 2013 documents, obtained by the Citizen under the Access to
Information law, pointed out that the government and Sikorsky reached a
deal in principle in January 2012 on interim helicopters.

That
agreement was to be dealt with through another contract amendment, noted
the DND briefing prepared by maritime helicopter project official Doug
Baker and Assistant Deputy Minister for Materiel John Turner.

Both
DND and Sikorsky had also worked out measures to address unexpected
minor delays for those deliveries. “Public Works is expected to advise
Sikorsky of the pre-conditions for further amendment to the contract,”
the DND documents noted.

Public Works has already amended the
Cyclone contract twice before to give Sikorsky more time to deliver the
aircraft, but the firm missed both of those amended deadlines.

Public
Works spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold sent an email pointing out that the
government is not engaged in “contract negotiations” with Sikorsky on a
new deal. “The Government of Canada is not engaged, has not been
engaged, and is not starting to be engaged in contract negotiations with
Sikorsky,” the email stated.

But industry sources say there are
indeed discussions underway. The DND documents indicate that government
officials were concerned that only specific words be used in public to
describe the ongoing meetings with Sikorsky.

“Public
Works reaffirmed to Sikorsky that the dialogue with the government must
be characterized as ‘discussions’ vice ‘negotiations,’ ” the documents
noted.

In late June, then-Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose
accused Sikorsky of not living up to its contract. She said that the
interim helicopters did not meet air force requirements and the
government was not going to accept those aircraft.

Again the DND documents tell a different story.

“Steady
progress has been made towards delivery of the Interim Maritime
Helicopters, and a realistic schedule has been developed,” one of the
briefings noted.

“We will continue to support Public Works and
Government Services efforts to secure an acceptable agreement to enable
delivery of the Interim Maritime Helicopter.”

Sikorsky spokesman
Paul Jackson said the firm is working closely with the Canadian
government and making progress in completing the Cyclone program.

Sikorsky has delivered four Cyclones to a Nova Scotia base, but they still remain property of the firm.

In
the summer, the Conservative government announced it would allow pilots
and technicians to train on those Cyclone helicopters, but said they
would not accept ownership of the choppers because they don’t meet the
air force’s requirements.

Neither DND nor Public Works could
explain the reasoning behind allowing air crews to train on the Cyclones
even though the government says the aircraft are unacceptable.


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