SHAH ALAM: Only for Operational Requirements. That was the first thing that came to my mind when I read the question (below) from one of our regular readers, Michael, several days ago.
Off topic, during recent merdeka n also ATM anniversary rehearsal..I did not see EC-725. something wrong to the heli?
Instead of replying to him in the comments section, I will answer the question in this post. Is there anything wrong with the Cougar? The answer depends on who you ask the question.
If you asked Airbus Helicopters, the answer will be “there is nothing wrong with the Cougar”, which it had re-designated as H225M. RMAF continues to call its helicopters EC725s though.
“There is nothing wrong with the helicopters,” one of its executive told me when we met last month. He says the French Air Force had no problem with the helicopters and were flying them every day since April.
However, if you asked RMAF officials, you might get a different answer though not on the record.
The absence of the Cougar from three important events – Merdeka, Armed Forces Day and Agong Colours Parade on July 21 (which Michael missed) – certainly warranted an explanation.
And the answer, not an official one, I must add, is that the Cougars are currently “flight restricted” due to the fatal crash in Norway, in April, just like its civilian brethren.
And despite the assurances from Airbus, I was told any flights of the EC725s were subject to “operational requirements” (whatever that means) and apparently flypasts are not one them. From Wikipedia
On 29 April 2016, a CHC Helikopter Service Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma helicopter, carrying oil workers from the Gullfaks B platform in the North Sea, crashed near Turøy, a Norwegian coastal island 36 kilometres (22 mi) from the city of Bergen. Several witnesses reported initially seeing nothing untoward with the helicopter flying steadily, before the sound suddenly changed and it started to sway. A moment later its main rotor assembly detached from the aircraft and the fuselage plummeted to the ground and exploded into flames.
All thirteen crew and passengers died in the crash.
Following the crash, a service bulletin from Airbus was likely issued to RMAF calling for technical checks on the Cougars. At this point, civil EC225s were also being grounded for technical checks.
It was likely that the decision to restrict flight operations of the whole EC725 fleet was made following this initial checks.
It was for this reason the Cougars were notably absent during the Sarawak state elections, though several were photographed flying VIPs in the initial stages of the campaign.
The checks were still ongoing when on May 17, a Nuri on SAR alert at the Kuantan airbase – instead of a Cougar – was dispatched to the scene of the MB339CM crash near Pekan.
By late May, several Cougars were apparently cleared for flight and two were flying in the RMAF anniversary parade at the Kuantan airbase on June 1. I was told at the event that the whole fleet will be cleared to fly by end of the month.
Unfortunately, a few days later, the Cougars were subjected to “operational requirements” yet again, following the publication of the preliminary report on the Norway crash.
On 2 June the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority and the UK Civil Aviation Authority extended the grounding of EC225LP and AS332L2 helicopters, now also including search and rescue flights. The updated directives were results of a recommendation in the preliminary report published by the AIBN on 1 June. Later that day the European Aviation Safety Agency decided to prohibit all flights with EC225LP and AS332L2 helicopters in Europe. On 3 June the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a directive prohibiting flights with EC225LP and AS332L2 helicopters.
The similar military Eurocopter AS532 Cougar and Eurocopter EC725 of Germany and Brazil were grounded around 7 June in response to the accident, and the South Korean Surion was grounded in July 2016. By July 2016, 80% of the world fleet was on ground. The French military continued to operate its fleet.
Due to the EASA directive, all civil EC225s in Malaysia remained grounded. And although the EASA directive did not cover the military, RMAF apparently decided to extend the flight restrictions of its own EC725s.
And RMAF was not alone, Indonesian air force, it was reported on June 19, also grounded its six NAS 332 Super Pumas.
It was also reported in late June that Singapore had decided to delay its decision to order H225Ms following the EASA directive. Reuters had quoted unnamed sources saying the H225M helicopter was the front-runner for a $1 billion contract to replace an older version of the Super Puma in Singaporean service.
Despite this apparent setback, on August 9, Kuwait announced its order for 30 H225Ms, marking the first order for the helicopters following the worldwide grounding of the civilian version.
So how long will the Cougars be left idle then? I have no idea, at the moment. Perhaps they will even rescind the flight restrictions order by the time you read this, making this post redundant. It must be noted here that the investigation into the Norway crash reported that metal fatigue was suspected but the helicopter systems failed to detect it prior to the crash. This fact – the failure of the system to detect faults – I believed is the main reason RMAF has yet to clear the Cougar for normal operations. I hope this answer your question, Michael.
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The RMAF took the right step by putting safety above everything else by limiting the Cougars to sorties that are really needed or vital. The question really is how candid or honest is Airbus Helicopters being with its customers with regards to any issues with the Cougar.