Australia reaches helicopter fix with Eurocopter

CANBERRA Wed May 8, 2013 9:17pm EDT

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CANBERRA May 9 (Reuters) - Australia's military has reached agreement with Eurocopter's local subsidiary to fix problems with its MRH-90 transport helicopter that should see the troubled aircraft cleared later this year, the government said on Thursday.

The deal, announced by Defence Minister Stephen Smith, will see Australia receive a 47th multi-role helicopter at no extra cost, while re-setting the $2 billion, six-year-old project's delivery schedule.

"With continued good progress, the MRH-90 programme will be considered for removal from the Projects of Concern list by the end of 2013," Smith said in a statement.

Australia's MRH-90 roll-out has been plagued by technical problems including an engine failure, inertial navigation problems and windscreen cracks, pushing back delivery of the helicopters by about three years.

Many of Australia's problems reflected concerns found with the helicopter elsewhere, including problems identified by Germany's military with the cabin floor, as well as design difficulties associated with Australia's harsh climate.

Other problems involved landing on uneven ground in battlefield conditions and navigating onto naval frigate decks at sea.

Australia's helicopters are mostly manufactured locally by Eurocopter's local wing Australian Aerospace.

The helicopter, a partnership between by European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) subsidiary Eurocopter and Finmeccanica subsidiary AgustaWestland, has so far been ordered by 13 nations, with delivery beginning in 2006.

Australia is one of few customers for the fly-by-wire composite twin-engine chopper outside Europe and has only taken possession of 16 MRH-90s to date, with a further three expected to be delivered by the end of the year. (Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Michael Perry)

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