Sikorsky S-61 Nuri (photo : Airliners)
Major Crisis With 18 Copters Grounded for Routine Repairs
PETALING JAYA: The mainstay of the Malaysian Armed Forces transport fleet, the Nuri medium-lift helicopter, is facing a major crisis with most grounded for routine and unscheduled maintenance.
The situation is so bad that the Nuri squadrons are unable to respond to routine tasks such as mercy missions and transportation of troops, unless planned well in advance.
The Nuri fleet availability rate is below 50 per cent, the lowest across the RMAF fleet, even lower that the MIG-29 air superiority fighters that are expected to be retired from service by year-end.
It was also suggested that the cost of maintaining the Nuri is skyrocketing although the number of flyable helicopters was decreasing.
The Malay Mail was informed that only around 10 Nuri helicopters were certified "flyable" from the 28 that remain in service with the Royal Malaysian Air Force.
Of these, according to former Nuri pilots, only five were fully mission capable. Only aircraft certified as mission capable will be tasked with operational duties while those certified as "flyable" are kept for emergencies only.
The rest of the Nuri fleet are mostly grounded for routine repairs at the four Nuri squadrons located across the country or undergoing maintenance at the Airod Sdn Bhd facility in Subang, the country' sole maintenance, repair and overhaul facility.
RMAF chief Jen Datuk Seri Rodzali Daud could not be reached for comment.
The Malay Mail was informed that the Armed Forces top brass were aware of the situation as the RMAF headquarters had prepared a report that gave a detailed picture of the woes affecting the Nuri fleet.
However, The Malay Mail unable to obtain or see the document as it was classified under the Official Secrets Act. Former RMAF personnel who spoke on the issue said they had never seen the Nuri fleet in such a situation since the helicopters were put into service in the early 1970s.
The crisis, they claimed, started two years ago after the decision to defer the purchase of 12 new medium-utility helicopters to replace the Nuris. According to them, the crisis had affected the Nuri fleet's ability to undertake traditional missions.
The Nuri has been tasked with a variety of military and civil missions from troop transport, mercy flights, cargo hauling and search and rescue. And Nuri traditional users, the Army and the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), have now to make do with their own helicopters that are less capable in terms of troop and cargo carrying capacities.
Some 40 Nuri or Sikorsky S61-A4 Sea King helicopters were purchased in the late 1960s and were delivered in batches until the early 1980s, but the number had dwindled down to 28 due to accidents and crashes.
The four Nuri squadrons are the 10th Squadron based in Sungai Besi; 3rd Sqdn in Butterworth, 5th Sqdn in Labuan and 7th Sqdn based in Kuching.
The 7th Sqdn is responsible for SAR operations in Sabah and Sarawak. The 10th Sqdn is also responsible for the RMAF VIP helicopters and it also has a Nuri helicopter stationed at the Kuantan air base for day-to-day operations.
A former Nuri pilot said: "The whole country is fussing over the theft of the jet engines. But the real scandal is what is happening to the Nuri fleet.
"The Nuri cannot even fly mercy missions, they have to get the navy and the army to fly these missions. Mercy flights were one of the missions for the Nuri from Day One."
He said he was told that current Nuri pilots were only flying about 30 hours a month on average.
"When I was in the air force flying the Nuri, even junior pilots were flying up to 50 hours a month."
The lack of flying hours, the former pilot claimed, had a knock-on effect on Nuri operations.