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Governmental transport fleet: case of the biter bit

Published : 15 November 2012
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In recent declarations to the media, General Petr Pavel, the Czech Chief of Defense Staff, underlined that lack of financial means of the Defense Ministry could lead to withdrawal from service of transport aircraft and helicopters, mainly those belonging to the governmental transport fleet.

For the sole year 2013, the envisaged bill for maintenance of air assets could reach a deficit of 600 million to 1 billion Czech crowns (between 24 and 40 million euros) and the General Staff has no other option but to choose between its priorities. The oldest assets should be progressively retired from service.

Canadair CL-601 Challenger should be the first plane grounded in 2013. General overhaul of engines cannot be performed because of lack of financial means. This aircraft is used in the Czech Air Force from 1999 after dissolution on 31st December 1998 of the Government Air Unit of the Ministry of the Interior. This particular aircraft is well known because of the numerous technical problems it had in the past years, often with political authorities onboard, including head of State himself in 2005. The last known incident was in February 2011 when Chief of Defense Staff General Picek went back from a trip to IDEX Arms fair in the Emirates.

First of the two jets JAK-40 in service on Air transport base of Prague-Kbely could be withdrawn from service in 2014 and the second one in 2015.

The transport helicopter fleet is also struck and question is put whether 243rd Helicopter Squadron, located on Prague-Kbely Air Base, will be able to survive. Effectively, general overhaul will be difficult to perform in the coming years. And all the 15 helicopters of that particular unit (2 Mi-17, 3 Mi-8S, 1 Mi-8P, 10 W-3A Sokol) are concerned by those maintenance problems:

  • One of the two Mi-17 will reach the end of its life-cycle in 2013 and the second one is already grounded;
  • The four Mi-8 need general overhaul to keep on flying;
  • Four of the ten W-3A Sokol of the Czech Air Force are waiting for maintenance and the 6 other ones, which are necessary for National Rescue Service, should get a general overhaul between 2014 and 2015. However the high prices requested by Polish producer for this heavy maintenance operation (twice the price necessary for the same operation on helo Mi-17, that is to say around 100 and 120 million crowns according to General Pavel) could lead to other solutions, including a call for tenders for helicopters of the same category.

Those declarations of the Chief of Defense Staff are occurring a few days before the vote in Parliament of the 2013 State budget. It is particularly interesting to notice that those predictions of grounding government transport aircraft could strike indirectly politicians who are responsible of the cuts in the Defense budget.

If the air assets dedicated to government transportation are missing, political authorities will still have the opportunity to fly with the 2 Airbus A-319 or the 4 C-295M CASA of the Czech Air Force … provided that more important missions are not planned at the same period of time.

«Airbuses were initially bought for soldiers. If Mr. President has a trip planned and we have only one available Airbus to send abroad to evacuate wounded soldiers, our priority will be the safeguard of human lives» declared General Pavel.

That is why it is possible that, in a near future, Czech politicians will have to fly regular planes, as it is the case for some of their counterparts abroad. Some people could think that it is fair that politicians have to assume their decision at the expenses of their personal comfort.