02 Juli 2010
RTA's airship (photo : Nation Multi Media)
The army's 350 million baht airship has been deflated due to serious leaks just one month after its delivery.
The problems are worrying the inspection panel which approved the delivery of the aircraft.
Three colonels who sat on the panel that approved the delivery of the airship on May 27 are worried the US-made Aeros 40D aircraft will not be able to take to the air again, an army source said.
"It's been left deflated in a hangar at the Bo Thong airstrip in Pattani's Nong Chik district for some time," said the source, adding that several ruptures had appeared along the stitching on the airship's body.
A military team responsible for taking care of the airship has tried to repair the leaks by using heat to glue the first and second layers of tarpaulin to prevent further damage, the source said.
However, that is considered only a temporary solution as ruptures have been found all over the airship, the source said.
The craft has lost 30% of its helium - but this "was of little concern" as officials are focused more on testing three cameras mounted to helicopters which will conduct joint operations with the airship, the source said.
The use of the three cameras has not been approved by the inspection panel pending further tests to see if they work properly.
The three helicopters with cameras will supposedly work with the airship in patrolling the violence-plagued South.
At least 8million baht in military funds has been spent on refilling the airship with helium, the army source said.
"The full responsibility and all the maintenance burden will fall on the army after the airship inspection panel approves of the airship and the camera system," the source said.
Col Wiwat Suchart, deputy head of the army's Directorate of Logistics, has defended claims about the high cost of maintaining the airship, saying the helium refill will cost between 5,000 and 30,000 baht a time - not up to 100,000 baht as has been reported in the media.