One of the Government’s four grounded AW139 helicopters is expected to become serviceable within the next month, with two more shortly after, as well, says acting National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.
He gave the reply in the Senate on Tuesday following query by Opposition senator Wade Mark.
Hinds said the helicopters were grounded in June 2017 because of the “extremely high cost” of maintaining them as military helicopters cost over $150 m a year.
Their absence from use became a discussion point recently following the crash of a National Helicopter Services Ltd (NHSL) “chopper” while on the search for eight escaped prisoners.
Three of the helicopters were transferred for approved maintenance and the fourth in long-term preservation.
“Based on the work done by National Helicopter Services Ltd it’s now expected the first will be made serviceable within the next month with two more helicopters following shortly thereafter. The fourth helicopter requires the most maintenance as this aircraft was grounded in October 2016 for major repairs to its tail boom due to corrosion,” Hinds said.
“To this end, the T&T Defence Force Air Guard continues working assiduously with the NHSL officials towards returning the four helicopters to full operational capacity in the shortest time,” he added.
Hinds also said two C-26 fixed-wing aircraft have not been grounded and are used for search and rescue, intelligence surveillance, law enforcement support, reconnaissance and troop transport.
He also said the two Cape Class vessels which Government ordered from the Australian Austal shipyard can be easily integrated for use within T&T Coast Guard. He added the material used in construction and design allows them to travel at greater speed and endurance than similarly sized steel vessels.
They can operate with two instead of four engines and they also carry “ballistic (bulletproof) protection” for occupants.
Hinds assured they can also be easily integrated into the existing computerised maintenance management software currently used by other T&TCG vessels. The aluminum hull reduces maintenance cost and time associated with steel hulls.
Hinds said T&TCG experts visited the Australian shipyard and observed and tested the vessels. They produced a report stating the vessels are capable of operating to the full extent of the T&T Exclusive Economic Zone and had the capacity to conduct operations in all environments in which the T&TCG now operates and is expected to operate in future. The report also assured the vessels can be integrated with the six Austal vessels and Damon vessels currently in use by the T&TCG.