Thursday, 17 February 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
12. Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Defence the number of helicopters available to the Air Corps; if all are adequately equipped for night flying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4526/00]
71. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to reports that some of the equipment in the Dauphin helicopters used by the Air Corps is obsolete and is not considered suitable for night rescue missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4647/00]
The Air Corps fleet comprises 14 helicopters, including one operated on behalf of the Garda Síochána. The types of aircraft involved are as follows: seven Alouette III, two Gazelle, four Dauphin and one Ecureil AS355N.
All the aircraft are operational and undergo regular maintenance and scheduled overhauls to  ensure they are fully airworthy and meet the certification standards laid down for the aviation industry. Subject to air safety parameters, which take account of factors such as meteorological conditions, terrain, mission, etc., three Dauphin and the Garda helicopters are equipped for operational night flying. The Dauphin helicopters were bought in the period 1982-84 and underwent major overhaul by the manufacturers in the mid-1990s at a cost of more than £4 million. Similar overhauls are due to be performed again in the period 2001 to 2003. In the course of ongoing maintenance, it is necessary to comply with air safety requirements by following a very strict regime of replacement of parts which are time expired or have achieved usage milestones. In the past three years almost £5 million was spent on Dauphin replacement parts and contract repairs.
The electronic navigation equipment which was originally fitted to the Dauphin was the most modern of its type at that time. However, recently the manufacturers have curtailed technical support and despite the best efforts of the Air Corps this equipment has become increasingly more difficult to maintain. This situation has resulted in one Dauphin not being available for night flying operations while continuing to be available on the same basis as the Alouettte and Gazelle for day time use under visual flight procedures.
The question of installing a new navigation system on the Dauphin helicopters is being examined. Such equipment might well cost up to £2 million per aircraft and the most appropriate opportunity for installation will arise during the scheduled overhauls due to commence next year. Obviously the total cost of the overhauls, including the fitting of a new navigation system, would be very substantial and a close analysis of the matter will be required to establish whether proceeding with that work or taking an alternative approach would offer the most cost effective solution.
Mr. M. Smith: No. The White Paper states that if that question arose, additional funds would have to be provided because there was speculation that the funds would have to come from the savings about which we spoke. That will not be the case if it is decided to proceed on that basis at any stage.
Mr. M. Smith: It is not appropriate for me to comment on such matters. In my experience, the Air Corps personnel are very safety conscious and take all considerations into account. They decide where to fly and where they can and cannot land. This is not a matter on which I would have expertise or involvement. I rely on the expertise of the Air Corps to make these decisions and not to fly aircraft where the strictest aviation standards are not met.
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