The Australian Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment in Townsville has begun operations with two Leonardo AW139 helicopters leased from Helicorp (Toll Helicopters).
The contract for the two AW139s was first announced in May this year when the defense department announced it would be spending A$37 million to hire private helicopters to counter the low availability of the MRH90 Taipan fleet.
The most recent grounding of all of the 47 Taipans occurred this summer, while their purchase has been on the projects of concern list since 2011. The helicopters were also grounded in 2019, after one of the Taipan aborted its mission due to tail rotor vibration. Another issue that has been documented is that the MRH-90 door was too narrow for the operation of its gun while troops were descending.
AW139s will now be taking over the role of supporting major exercises and training, and assisting with emergency response activities including during the high-risk weather season.
According to the defense ministry, the leased helicopters have similar performance to the MRH90 and will be used to support aircrew development and currency requirements when combat aircraft are not available.
“The contract with Helicorp has met all milestones, with training, aircraft serviceability and flying-hour requirements exceeding expectations,” the Army said.
“The Army interim commercial helicopter capability will provide Army aircrew with flying proficiency and currency training on an advanced digital aircraft,” Commander Army Aviation Command Major General Stephen Jobson said.
“Maintaining these advanced digital cognitive skills is essential for operating complex modern combat helicopters now and into the future.”
The contract for the two leased Leonardo AW139 helicopters covers training, maintenance, logistics and continuing airworthiness support.
The initial contract ends on June 30, 2023, with options for two 12-month extensions.