Engine defects in newly delivered Air Force choppers exposed

MANILA, Philippines – Four of the 7 choppers in the allegedly anomalous project to modernize the armed forces had engine defects, the Air Force admitted during a Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on Wednesday, May 20.

Senator JV Ejercito revealed that in the P1.2-billion Huey (UH-1) project – which the Department of National Defense (DND) with a foreign joint venture – one Huey had to be changed, two had engine leaks, while another would not start.

The 7 refurbished choppers were delivered in batches from August to December 2014. Six are currently mission capable and one is awaiting spare parts, according to Philippine Air Force Vice Commander Major General Edgar Fallorina.

"If these were refurbished, why is there a case of 'changed engine'? If one of the requirements in the Terms of Reference states that there should be at least 50% of its total life span remaining – what is called time before overhaul – why do we have a changed engine?" Ejercito said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Senator Francis Escudero chimed in: "Is that normal? We will already change the engine of a helicopter less than 3 months since it was inspected?"

Fallorina replied: "As an Air Force pilot and helicopter pilot, [I would say] it happens. But to say it's common, I don't think so." 

But he said the unit is still covered by warranty. The engine was replaced and the unit is now mission capable.

Ejercito called for the probe following newspaper reports on alleged anomalies surrounding the chopper deal but which defense officials and Air Force officers denied.

The defense department conducts the bidding for military assets, but military officers are involved in deciding which units to acquire and in the final inspection tests of the assets.

The joint venture of the United States-based Rice Aircraft Services Incorporated and Canada-based Eagle Copters Ltd. won the contract to supply 21 choppers. DND partially terminated the contract following the controversy, accepting only 7 of the 21 choppers. 

Colonel Dino Diño, the chairman of the technical inspection and acceptance committee, maitained that the choppers passed the tests before they were turned over to the Air Force.

"All the 7 aircraft that were accepted passed, sir, the technical specifications. The engines passed," Diño said.

"After the acceptance, the aircraft will now be turned over to the end user, which is the Air Force. The Air Force is the one utilizing this, sir. With regards to that, sir, I do not know, sir, how the discrepancy floated and how it was being utilized. As far as we are concerned, it all passed during our inspection and acceptance," Diño added. 

Ejercito said Air Force pilots told him they're not comfortable flying the refurbished choppers, a claim that was denied by the Air Force. 

The Senate blue ribbon probe will continue. Ejercito said he wants to know if the DND projects are dependent on available supplies. They should be demand-driven, he said. – Rappler.com