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  • January 10th, 2014

Michael Byers Op-ed: Canada could have obtained world-class helicopters at bargain prices, but the Conservatives weren’t interested

National Post
Michael Byers
January 8, 2014

Two curious developments occurred in the global helicopter industry last week.

On Wednesday, India cancelled an $800-million order for 12 AgustaWestland 101 helicopters, after allegations that the British-Italian manufacturer paid bribes to secure the contract in 2010.

The AW101 is the latest version of the EH101 — a helicopter that Canada uses for maritime search and rescue. Canada would also be using the EH101 on its destroyers and frigates, had Jean Chrétien not cancelled a $5-billion contract in 1993, incurring $478-million in penalties. The AW101 is currently in service with the British Royal Navy, the Italian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Last month, Norway contracted to buy 16 of the helicopters.

The loss of the Indian contract could cost thousands of jobs at the AgustaWestland plant in Somerset, U.K. This poses a problem for Britain’s Conservative government, which has heavily promoted the defence and aerospace industries.

On Friday, late in the afternoon in Ottawa, a news release announced the Harper government’s intent to proceed with the troubled procurement of CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters from Sikorsky. The Cyclones are supposed to replace the Sea King helicopters that have operated off Canada’s destroyers and frigates for more than 50 years.

Mechanical failures and service limitations plague the fleet. Seven personnel and 14 Sea Kings have been lost in accidents, and the risk of another fatal accident increases each time one of the aged aircraft flies.

Paul Martin initiated the Cyclone procurement in 2004. Since 2006, the project has been an albatross around Stephen Harper’s neck. Two years ago, in a rare moment of candour, then-defence minister Peter MacKay called the Cyclones the “worst procurement in the history of Canada.” Tellingly, Canada is the only country to have chosen the Cyclone…

The full article is available  from the National Post.

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