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PacRim Notebook

By Barney O'Shea | September 1, 2005
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Great Days in Australia

The highly successful Heli Pacific Conference--held July 12-13 in Coolum, Queensland--owed that success to the near doubling of Australia's helicopter fleet in little more than a decade. Other keys to its success were the input from Rob Rich, president of the Helicopter Assn. of Australasia (HAA), and the military day hosted by Brigadier Tony Fraser, commander of 16 Brigade (Aviation). Their combined knowledge of all aspects of the regional helicopter industry ensured that the right people were there to provide the latest info on current developments.

A bonus was the 2005 HAA Industry Conference, held nearby, which was modelled on the Helicopter Assn. International's big U.S. Heli-Expo show. This made the greatest use of the gathering by providing training opportunities along with the conference's pure information aspects .


As always with new ventures there were, invariably, problems. Some stemmed from the success of the event, whose attendance was more than double that anticipated by the Australian organizing team. With mainly the same personnel in place for planning the next event, the Asia Pacific Heli-Expo (slated for Sept. 11-13, 2006), Rich and his HAA team, with military backing, are looking forward to making the next conference even better. In addition to his HAA duties, Rich is editor of Heli-News.

The one day of the conference was devoted to military topics and one to civil and industry ones. A hot topic was new technology, Australia being the first country to take delivery of the most advanced scout/attack helicopter: the Eurocopter Tiger for the Australian Army Aviation Corps. To further provide the Australian Defence Force with the capability to field a fast, hard-hitting, networked force, Australia has also ordered 12 NH90s, which in the Aviation Corps will be called the Multi-Role Helicopter, or MRH90. These aircraft will form an additional troop lift squadron, which will release a squadron of Black Hawks to provide a dedicated special-forces capability.

There have been many changes to ensure and improve operability and industry support for the Australian Defence Force. These include increased international cooperation not only with ANZAC neighbor New Zealand, but with France and Germany, which will be operating the Tigers and NH90s. Collaborating with them and combining several smaller fleets into one larger one (for the purposes of procuring support and services) could have industrial, logistics and training benefits. Simulators, for instance, can be costly to procure for a military force with a small fleet.

The regional markets' massive increase--from 649 helicopters 11 years ago to 1,200 in Australia alone today--brings with it many new considerations, such as greater use of advanced technology, increased demand for training, effective management at all levels--from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority down--and an adequate number of skilled people. Personnel shortages are inevitable, as is shown by licensed engineers leaving rotorcraft for the growing airline industry. Those leaving favor the airlines' fixed hours and more time at home over the life alone in the bush, with many licensed engineers aged 50 years and older. Similarly, flying instructors can earn more flying the 30 helicopters in emergency medical services than in training. The demand for pilots is so great that flying training schools are being approached for pilots direct from training. Another aspect is that, unlike Air Force fixed-wing pilots, military helicopter pilots earn about twice the civilian wage.

The conference planned to cover major aspects with respected authorities in the various fields. On the civil side, for instance, was Bruce Byron, CEO of CASA, who made the most of his first opportunity to meet the helicopter industry en masse. Other topics were the industry growth; paramedic support for helicopters in emergency medical services; the organization of fixed- and rotary-wing search and rescue and helicopters in EMS, and development of the national Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Night-vision goggle usage was well covered, as was the need for cockpit crew management, risk management and effective business management.

A member of the Order of Australia and recipient of the Conspicuous Service Cross, Fraser served as the conference's military chairman. As a speaker, he wore two hats, first explaining his command, Army aviation, and then standing in for the deputy chief of the Army, Maj. Gen. Ian Gordon. Basically, the introduction of the Tiger and, in due course, the MRH90 will put the Aviation Corps at the forefront of all the latest technology to make it a major part of the planned hardened, networked Australian Defence Force.

The goal is to have the surveillance and systems capability to first seek out and identify opposition, then react quickly with helicopter-borne mobile forces supported by the massive fire power of the Tiger. The Aviation Corps is in a good position to use all the accumulated capability and experience learned from its intensive operational activity in a wide range of situations. The Corps started in Vietnam, then did counter-insurgency missions in Malaysia and assisted in the region, conducting constant relief operations with Iroquois, Black Hawks and Chinooks. It conducted operations in East Timor for literally years. Fraser had personally been involved in many of these operations.

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