Opposition slams helicopter fiasco

An EMQ AW139 helicopter lands on the Warrego Highway during the January floods, awaiting access to Amberley for refuelling before returning to Grantham for rescue services.
An EMQ AW139 helicopter lands on the Warrego Highway during the January floods, awaiting access to Amberley for refuelling before returning to Grantham for rescue services. File

THE STATE Opposition has slammed the Bligh Government over what it has termed a $50 million-plus fiasco involving rescue helicopters operated by Emergency Management Queensland.

As was first revealed by the Daily News on August 27, an international aviation safety warning relating to the problems with tail rotors on EMQ's three AW139 choppers forced their grounding.

One of three choppers, based at Cairns, is now back in the air after an upgrade but the other two, based in Townsville and Brisbane, are still out of service.

The Brisbane-based chopper regularly services Warwick and surrounding areas with emergency transport for medical and accident cases, along with RACQ CareFlight.

The grounding was ordered after search and rescue AW139s crashed in both China and Brazil on August 17 and 19, with all four crew members of each chopper having perished.

EMQ has so far been unable to provide an estimated time frame for the choppers get back in the air.

LNP Shadow Minister for Emergency Services John-Paul Langbroek today asked Minister if Neil Roberts he would finally admit the purchase of the AugustaWestland (AW) 139s had been a very costly disaster for taxpayers.

He also reminded the government that the opposition first aired concerns over the AW139 tail rotors as far back as 2009.

"These helicopters cost $50 million - but have been grounded again over tail and tail rotor problems,"; Mr Langbroek said.

"Will the Minister finally admit that this purchase amounts to yet another very costly disaster for Queensland taxpayers?

"Thank God we still have a couple of the tried and trusted Bell 412s able to fly, because the Minister gave no indication of when the AW 319s would be back in the air.

"Let's hope there's no major accident or disaster that requires aero-medical evacuations in the near future because the AW319s don't have tail rotors and can't fly.";

Mr Langbroek said Labor had blown more than $50 million on helicopters that have been repeatedly been grounded over tail and rotor problems.

"Their grounding following fatal crashes in Brazil and China of identical helicopters to those used in Queensland. The crashes appear to be the result of failing rotor blades - one of the issues the LNP warned about over two years ago.

"There were serious questions their very high cost, size, and unsuitability for rescue work. The list of problems is as long as your arm. There were also a high number of very costly modifications.

"These modifications were necessary because the AW 319s could only carry one injured person on a stretcher, compared with four the Bell 412s could carry, and are very limited where they can land.

Mr Langbroek said Labor didn't even bother to discuss the AW 319s purchase with the pilots and crew, before rushing out and buying the expensive aircraft.

"The CanDo LNP team will cut waste and bring commonsense to government.";

The rescue helicopters were rolled out between 2007 and 2009 at Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville to replace the existing Bell 412s.

At the time Mr Roberts said the aircraft was the first of its kind in Australia and would be faster, able to fly longer and have a bigger cabin.

But in November 2009, EMQ began daily inspections of the helicopters' tail booms on instruction from the manufacturer.

Four people died after a police helicopter crashed in Beijing on August 17, 2011, and another four died when an AW139 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil just two days later.

EMQ has never linked the grounding to these crashes, referring only to "incidents" in both countries.

Topics:  emergency management queensland

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