Australia’s ‘Doomed’ MRH90 Helos Gets Airbus Interested; Keen To Acquire Part For Distribution To Other Operators

Airbus and NHIndustries (NHI) are reportedly engaged in talks with the Australian government to salvage valuable components and essential parts from the decommissioned NHI MRH90 Taipan helicopters used by the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The decision comes after Canberra’s unsuccessful attempts to sell the decommissioned helicopters to other NH90 users. 

Despite efforts to gauge interest from potential buyers, no positive responses were received, leading to the exploration of alternative avenues for maximizing the value of the retired assets.

Originally scheduled for retirement in December 2024, the MRH90 helicopters were prematurely decommissioned following a tragic incident in July 2023, which resulted in the loss of all four crew members. 

This fatal crash, coupled with sustained challenges in maintaining the Taipans despite their relatively average age of 11-12 years, prompted the ADF to expedite the retirement process.

Efforts are now focused on salvaging high-demand components from the airframes while disposing of sections deemed lacking in value as spares. 

NHI views these salvaged components as pivotal in its efforts to enhance the availability of the global NH90 fleet, envisioning the establishment of a comprehensive parts exchange program.

Airbus told Janes that there is substantial demand for spare parts, and the salvaged components will play a crucial role in supporting the flight operations of NH90 customers worldwide. 

“Altogether, we are looking at a few thousand parts, which will be purchased by the partner companies of NHI (at no cost to the NH90 customers) and which will be re-injected into the NH90 support system,” Airbus added. 

Despite the specific configuration of the Australian MRH90s, Airbus highlights the commonality shared with other NH90 variants, emphasizing that the majority of salvaged parts are usable by NH90 operators globally.

While negotiations with the Australian government are ongoing, the exact timeline for the conclusion of the deal remains uncertain. 

Airbus refrains from commenting on the specifics of the negotiations but assures that the harvested parts will be seamlessly integrated into the support system through both direct purchase options and the Standard Exchange process, offering flexibility to NH90 operators in utilizing these salvaged components to enhance their operational readiness.

Australia’s Troubled NH90 Helicopter Fleet

Australia’s NH-90 Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) fleet has long been plagued by logistical challenges and internal military skepticism about its effectiveness. 

However, recent developments surrounding the decommissioning and disposal of this fleet have thrust it into the international spotlight, sparking controversy and debate.

The decision to retire the NH-90 fleet came after a series of operational incidents, culminating tragically in the deaths of four Australian aircrew members during a night-time exercise over the Great Barrier Reef in July 2023. 

This marked a significant blow to the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and raised questions about the safety and reliability of the helicopters.

Reports suggest that dismantling the NH-90 fleet began covertly in October 2023, following the retirement of the MRH90 helicopters the previous year. 

Taipan Choppers: Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defense

While the exact number of helicopters already decommissioned remains undisclosed by the Australian Department of Defense, Minister of Defense Industry Pat Conroy has confirmed that the process is well underway.

The situation took a surprising turn when the Ukrainian government formally requested the remaining NH-90 helicopters. 

This request, backed by Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s Chief of Intelligence, garnered significant support from Ukraine’s social media users, both in Australia and around the world.

The Australian government’s refusal to grant Ukraine’s request sparked further controversy, with some criticizing the decision as a missed opportunity to support a country in need. 

A former Ukrainian army pilot even argued that the NH-90 helicopters would be preferable to the outdated Soviet-era aircraft currently in use by Ukraine.

However, Minister Pat Conroy defended the decision, citing the substantial financial investment required to restore the helicopters to operational status and lingering safety concerns following previous incidents, including a fatal crash in the Whitsundays last year. 

He highlighted the government’s commitment to prioritizing the safety and security of Australian taxpayers and military personnel. 

Nonetheless, the revelation that the Australian Department of Defense is salvaging crucial spare parts from the NH-90 fleet before its decommissioning, owing to the high demand for certain subsystems, is indeed positive news for Europe’s NHIndustries partnership (comprising Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters, and Fokker Aerostructures).