Paris | Some 400 Australian aerospace support workers face redundancy after the government brought forward the retirement of a fleet of MRH90 Taipan military helicopters, the head of the European manufacturer told Reuters.
NHIndustries (NHI) President Axel Aloccio also rebuffed any concerns that the decision to stop flying was linked to a safety issue following a fatal crash in July, saying engineers had found no malfunction so far in an Australia-led investigation.
Royal Australian Navy aircrew from the 808 Squadron stand beside their MRH90 Taipan helicopter. 
Australia’s defence ministry was not immediately available for comment out of hours.
Australia grounded its Taipan fleet after the offshore crash killed four aircrew and said the helicopters would not fly again until findings from a detailed investigation were published.
On Friday (Saturday AEST), Defence Minister Richard Marles said the fleet would not now return to operation before the previously planned withdrawal date of December 2024, with investigations set to last well into 2024.
“Today’s announcement does not presuppose or any way suggest the outcome of the investigations into the tragic incident,” he said in a statement.
Aloccio, who also manages the NH90 program at NHI’s main shareholder Airbus, struck a more definitive note.
“At this stage of the investigation no particular technical issue has been identified and we do not believe that the safety of the NH90 is at stake,” he said, adding the official probe was still in progress.
Aloccio said support networks would no longer be needed as a result of the fleet’s withdrawal.
“The immediate concern is to support the 400 or so workers in Australian aerospace who will be impacted by this decision because we were organising ourselves to support the Australian fleet until the end of next year,” Aloccio said.
“With this decision to anticipate the withdrawal of the NH90 by one year, this is going to impact immediately those 400 workers who will be made redundant as a result,” he said in a telephone interview.
Australia in January said it would buy 40 Black Hawk military helicopters, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, for an estimated $2.8 billion.
The Black Hawks are set to replace the Australian army’s Taipan, which have been plagued for years by maintenance issues.
Australia’s decision to stop flying Taipans early is the latest setback for the European NH90 programme after Norway and Sweden announced plans to cancel purchases.
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