IMP Retains CH-149 SAR Helicopter Maintenance
The Aerospace Division of Halifax-based IMP Group Ltd. recently received a second 7-year increment for its contract to maintain Canada’s search and rescue (SAR) helicopter fleet. This original contract, which was competitively awarded in 2000, provided for extensions in 7-year increments. The new increment is valued at an estimated C$ 591 million (about $570 million) over 7 years. In return, IMP Group will be called upon to provide first and second line maintenance, including sustained repair, overhaul of helicopter components, and engineering support and spares for the fleet.
Work will take place at the 4 Cormorant operating bases located in Comox, British Columbia; Trenton, Ontario; Greenwood, Nova Scotia; and Gander, Newfoundland. Canadian DND release.
The CH-149 Cormorant had a rocky procurement history…
A C$4.4 billion 1987 contract for 48 EH101s aimed to renew Canada’s naval helicopter and SAR fleets; but the incoming Chretien government canceled the whole program in 1993, leading to over C$ 500 in cancellation penalties and extended service for Canada’s dangerously aging fleet of Sea King (CH-124) and Sea Knight (CH-113) derivatives. A 1996 RFP for 15 SAR helicopters, and a 1998 CH-113 crash that killed everyone on board, led to a 1998 win for a modified civilian utility EH101 (AW530) against Boeing’s CH-47D Chinook, Eurocopter’s Cougar Mk2, and Sikorsky’s H-92 Maplehawk. The first aircraft was delivered in May 2000, but persistent issues with tail rotorhub cracking led to long fleet groundings, and the fleet has used up spares at an extremely rapid clip. In 2004, therefore, the EH101 lost Canada’s 28-helicopter CH-148 naval helicopter order to Sikorsky’s H-92.
June 5/09: Figures laid before the Canadian Senate’s Security and Defence Committee are calling the readiness of Canada’s maritime airframes into serious question. The reported figure for Canada’s CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopters is 50% (7/14).
Dec 23/08: Aviation Week reports that availability of Canada’s CH-149 Cormorant (EH101) fleet is improving, but has yet to reach the expected 75% availability standard. A 2008 report had placed the helicopters’ availability at around 50%, and concluded that minimum operational requirements could only be met by buying more aircraft, or reducing maintenance inspections.
An operational availability improvement program involving faster spares supply; faster return of repaired, of repaired and overhauled items; lengthened inspection intervals; and other measures has begun. Even so, Canada’s DND is reportedly waiting before it concludes that the program is a success. A recent report noted that 9/14 helicopters (64%) were available, but that number continues to fluctuate.
Note that Britain’s Conservative Party issued a January 2008 release that cited the “fit for service” readiness of their EH101 Merlin Mk1 (Navy) and Mk3 (Army) fleets at just 43-55%.
- CBC (July 19/06) – Tail rotor cleared in Cormorant crash
- CTV News (Oct 20/04) – Military grounds Cormorant helicopters. For the 3rd time in 2004. The report also notes that the CH-149s require up to 22 hours of maintenance for each hour in the air, instead of the 7 hours originally touted by EH Industries.