The Australian Army’s Taipan helicopters are back flying after an incident last month in which one of the European-designed aircraft was forced to ditch into the sea on the NSW South Coast.
- Defence grounded the army’s entire Taipan fleet after an MRH-90 suffered an engine failure and ditched during a training exercise
- A spokesperson has confirmed the army’s other MRH-90s have now returned to normal flying operations, but with unspecified “risk mitigations” in place
- The precise nature of the fault which caused the ditching is still not publicly known
In March, an MRH-90 suffered engine failure while carrying elite soldiers and crashed into the waters of Jervis Bay during a night-time training exercise, resulting in just two minor injuries and praise for the aircrew over their handling of the emergency.
Defence promptly grounded the army’s entire Taipan fleet, which has been plagued with recent difficulties, while a formal investigation was launched into the incident, which occurred about 9pm on March 22.
Shortly after the ditching, the Australian Defence Vessel Reliant recovered the abandoned Taipan helicopter from a Jervis Bay beach using a crane, before taking it away for detailed examination by accident investigators.
A Defence spokesperson has confirmed the army’s other MRH-90s have now returned to normal flying operations, but with unspecified “risk mitigations” in place.
“Defence has lifted the operational pause on MRH-90 Taipan flying operations,” the spokesperson told the ABC.
“The MRH-90 Taipan fleet returned to normal operations on 6 April 2023, with risk mitigations in place.
“The risk mitigations will have minimal impact on planned flying operations.”
Defence has declined to say what the new “risk mitigations” on the Taipan fleet are for operational security reasons.
The precise cause of last month’s emergency is still not publicly known, with Defence insisting “the investigation into the MRH-90 ditching incident is ongoing”.
Taipan fleet to be replaced a decade early by American Black Hawks
Earlier this year, the Albanese government confirmed a decision by the previous Morrison government to retire the MRH-90 fleet a decade early, replacing them with US-made Black Hawk helicopters in a multi-billion-dollar purchase.
The looming replacement of Australia’s locally produced Airbus MRH-90s with off-the-shelf Sikorsky-manufactured Black Hawks follows a similar move by the navy to scrap its Taipans in favour of Seahawks.
Australia’s fleet of 47 Taipans has been beset with problems and groundings since first being acquired by the Howard government in the mid-2000s, with some industry experts claiming the ADF has not known how to properly maintain or operate the fleet.
Last year, Chief of Army Lieutenant-General Simon Stuart told a Senate estimates committee that the cost of operating the Taipan fleet was $48,000 for every flying hour.
Other militaries, such as that of New Zealand, which operate the aircraft under the name NH-90 have managed to keep the fleet operational with far greater availability.
New Zealand Logistics Commander Air Group Captain Susie Barns says that in February, each aircraft in the country’s NH-90 fleet had an average of 23 flying hours per month.
“Our NH90 fleet availability rates are largely due to our deliberate maintenance planning and forecasting, which in turn delivers serviceable aircraft to meet outputs,” Captain Barns said.
“This maintenance team includes NZDF military, civilian and Airbus contractor staff. The RNZAF has the highest availability rates across the NH90 user community globally,” she added.