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Aviation Initiative Saves More Than $110 Million in Rotary and Fixed Wing Costs, U.N. Says

By Frank Wolfe | March 15, 2019
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An Mi-26T on a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, 2015.

In April, 2017 United Nations Secretary General António Guterres announced an initiative to trim helicopter and fixed-wing costs. Thus far, the organization has saved more than $110 million, according to a United Nations peacekeeping official.

At the time, the U.N. was spending about $750 million annually, using 58 airplanes and 157 helicopters for 12 peacekeeping missions and 6 special political missions. The number of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft has fallen since then, according to the United Nations. Today, it uses 133 helicopters to support 10 peacekeeping operations, six special political missions, and the African Union mission in in Somalia, including 72 military helicopters on so-called military letters of assist and the remaining rotor craft on long-term commercial contracts.

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Indeed, the U.N. does not have its own fleet of aircraft but relies on member states and contracts with private providers. For example, private firms' Russian Mi-26 helicopters have provided U.N. peacekeepers with significant heavy cargo capabilities in countries like Sudan.

"The Secretary General’s Aviation Initiative was successful in identifying a range of savings which has led to a consistently reduced aviation budget, and associated expenditures, through 2018, and into the 2019-20 budget proposal cycle," the U.N. peacekeeping official said.

"His initiative to Enhance the Efficiency and Cost-Effectiveness of UN Aviation focused on all aspects of aviation, including fixed wing and unmanned aircraft system deployments," he said. "The majority of savings, on the order of just over $110 million, were obtained through the reduction of fixed wing aircraft, although helicopter reductions did have an impact as well. This was accomplished through the reduction of under-utilized aircraft, the replacement of aircraft with more cost-efficient versions, and finally a reduction of flight hours through more finely tuned schedules. For example, in one mission, we were able to replace two utility helicopters with a light fixed wing aircraft, and in doing so, achieved significant savings."

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