-T / T / +T | Comment(s)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Feedback

Military Outsourcing

Regarding Giovanni de Briganti’s comments on military outsourcing, the situation could go a step further: arm all civil aircraft ("Military Outsourcing: How Far to Go?" January 2008, page 23).

They could divert at a moment’s notice from their scheduled flight plan, attack an enemy threat, and continue on their scheduled flight. The only cost to the military would be the extra flying hours spent in the sortie. This could be offset by the passengers voluntarily paying extra for the thrill factor. Thus, the military would need neither aircraft nor crews.

May I request 10 percent commission on the annual savings therefrom?

Roger Griffiths, Chief Executive Officer Griffair Helicopter Service Clitheroe, England

Giovanni has a point that privatization of military activities can go too far. On the other hand, it can offer some useful outcomes without long-term government investment, which is the key. Look at the U.K.’s Defence Helicopter Flying School — privately owned training helicopters meeting a military flying school timetable with very high availability.

The crucial thing with privatization, from the user perspective, is whether the task realistically can be embraced by essentially civil aircraft being maintained to civil standards. If the answer is yes, then why not? The downside is that the task may change. Then you have a contract that will need to be renegotiated and some of the changes might be too difficult or appear very expensive.

These lease deals do the government a big service by not increasing capital spending, as long as the contract risk is truly borne by the contractor. This, however, is an area where political and commercial issues overlap if the government customer might be asked to underwrite risk for parts or all of the contract.

At that point, you might ask, should the government not own the project conventionally?

I do think that you have to be careful if you say that contractors are more expensive than the military, as Giovanni suggests. Sure, the revenue cost may be high for the time the contract is in place, particularly in a "hot" area. But look at the costs long term of military staff and pure military equipment where, long after the mission is over, the government will be footing bills for people and equipment.

I do agree with the sentiment that care needs to be taken when going the contractor route and the customer must not be blinded by the advantages of such an approach: fixed periods, no capital involvement, risk transfer. He must heed the potential downsides of deployability and mission change, where it is all too easy to put a spanner in the works!

John Osmond Chipping Norton, England

Customer Perception

My staff and I have reviewed your Customer Perception survey report and feel it is skewed in favor of larger original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) ("On the Rise," February 2008, page 34). In your data, you will see a direct correlation with the number of helicopters produced by the OEM and the percentage of "above average" ratings by survey respondents.

You used an estimated 5,000 responses. Clearly, the bulk of those (estimated 80 percent) are operating and involved with the top four OEMs, as measured by aircraft produced, and have had little or no experience with the rest of the OEMs.

How can you expect a respondent to give an OEM a rating of 7 or better on a 1-10 scale (your definition of "above average" in the survey) if they have not had the experience with the OEM’s products? This would be like asking a lifelong Chevrolet owner how he would rate service, etc. of a Chrysler Jeep when he has never owned one. He is not going to give an above-average rating if he has no experience to base it on.

Your survey would have been meaningful if you would have displayed the percentage of "above average" ratings in relation to those who have flown and/or operated the particular products and thrown out ratings by those with no experience with the product. The smaller the OEM, the smaller the exposure. Therefore, one would expect a smaller positive rating percentage.

I feel these charts totally misrepresented the lower-volume manufacturers and do not reflect a true picture of experienced users of the products. This does a great disservice to the smaller OEMs.

Jerry Mullins, President & CEO Enstrom Helicopter Corp. Menominee, Mich.

Mr. Mullins indirectly highlights the value of Rotor & Wing’s new Excellence Ratings, which does precisely what he suggests by presenting the views only of respondents with direct and current experience with the aircraft concerned. Unfortunately, our 2007 survey did not receive sufficient responses on Enstrom to fairly include it (as well as several other manufacturers). We look forward to working with Mr. Mullins and representatives of other "lower-volume manufacturers" to ensure their inclusion in the 2008 R&W Excellence Ratings. — The Editor

CSAR-X Criticisms

Reader Jess Quintero has the right to choose sides in the debate over a new U.S. combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter ("VH-71 Delays," Feedback, April 2008, page 7).

But he takes that a step too far in criticizing Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky Aircraft for protesting the award of the contract to Boeing and its HH-47 Chinook. Mr. Quintero says Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, for which I work, have "hijacked the procurement process with repeated protests." In reality, the substance of the Government Accountability Office protest goes to the heart of the lifetime cost of owning and operating the new helicopters — an evaluation in which billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake. It is not a "loophole" and it is not "trivial," as Mr. Quintero claims.

I must also question his statement that "many experts agree that Boeing manufactures the best rescue helicopter." The one thing everyone agrees on is that Boeing’s helicopter is by far the largest one vying for the CSAR role. However, as a former CSAR pilot, I know that smaller helicopters are best for CSAR missions in critical areas, like avoiding hostile fire in the pickup zone. That is why in the more than 40 years that the Chinook has been in service, no military in the world has ever selected it as a dedicated CSAR platform.

Col. Mike Bergstresser, U.S. Air Force (retired) Fairfax Station, Va.

Mr. Quintero argues that the better aircraft won the initial CSAR-X competition. He also argues that Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky are at fault for citing "technical flaws" in protesting the award, thus denying our rescue warriors a sorely needed replacement for their aging Sikorsky HH-60s.

He is right to assert that a replacement helicopter is badly needed. He is dead wrong in suggesting that the HH-47 is best for the job. I am a former Air Force helicopter pilot with two combat tours in Vietnam and a military historian and analyst who maintains contact with the Air Force helicopter community. I have followed the CSAR-X contract debate from the beginning and can assure you that no one with whom I have discussed the matter and consider expert thinks the HH-47 "best."

Designed as a heavy-lift cargo helicopter over 40 years ago, the HH-47 is too big and cumbersome for the job. It has high noise and vibration levels. Its violent rotor downwash is out of limits for rescue hoist operations at tactically survivable altitudes. Most critical, it is significantly more vulnerable to battle damage than either the Lockheed or Sikorsky competitor — or the HH-60s in service.

I have contacts on the rosters of all three contractors, but have no personal interest in the outcome of the competition beyond concern for the welfare of our rescue warriors.

Lt. Col. John F. Guilmartin, Jr., U.S. Air Force (retired) Professor of History The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio

Mr. Quintero contends that "many experts agree that Boeing manufactures the best rescue helicopter and will ultimately get the contract." That is blatantly inaccurate.

The Chinook is a heavy-lift transport used for troop movement, artillery emplacement, and battlefield resupply. The USAF rescue crews need the best platform in which to perform the CSAR mission. The terminal area, where the survivor is located, is where the CSAR mission begins. Anyone with CSAR experience knows attributes like downwash, survivability, brownout, footprint, gun coverage, and signature are what’s really important in a hotly contested landing zone.

Mr. Quintero also says, "the two begrudged contractors have found technical flaws in the contract award," when in fact, it was the GAO that found the flaws, hence upholding their protests.

It’s important to quickly get the USAF the right helicopter for the CSAR mission. The protest process is part of a checks-and-balances system that ensures the nation gets what it paid for. I think it’s good to have fair acquisition competition and apparently so does the GAO. The system is working to produce the badly needed helicopter replacement. Let’s give it a chance.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth M. DeCuir, U.S. Air Force (retired) Annandale, Va.

Silver State

I write in response to your recent Question of the Month: "What impact do you think Silver State Helicopters’ shutdown will have on the U.S. industry?" (Feedback, March 2008, page 7). What a stupid question!

Better be asking about the 19- and 20-year-olds who are stuck with $50,000 loans and whose lives are ruined.

What Silver State does is tell the many honest and potential students that a slick organization is just that — slick.

For your magazine to look at Silver State as a unfortunate event is simply sickening. Why don’t you people ask the thousands who lost their money and see what they have to say for the unpaid loans that they pinned their hopes upon. I hope the Silver State principals and major chief trainers/instructors all go to jail, and if not then straight to hell. Preferably both.

Your focus needs to be on the tragedy of the students. Your insensitivity to their demise and ruined lives is simply unfortunate.

Robert J. Rendzio, President Safety Research Corp. of America Daleville, Ala.

Chinooks in Australia

I read with interest Barney O’Shea’s update on the use of Australian Chinooks in Afghanistan ("Busy at Home and Abroad," April 2008, page 58).

In 1995, when I was in the last of my 25 years as an aviator in the U.S. Army Reserves flying the ’Hook, my civilian "day job" required me to fly to Sydney, Australia for a series of business meetings. On the long flight to get there, I noticed an attractive young family sitting in the forward part of my Qantas cabin. He was marked by a clear military manner.

Sure enough, after an exchange of greetings, we learned we were both current in the Chinook. He was returning after having just completed the U. S. Army’s maintenance officers’ school on the CH-47. At that time, I had flown the same aircraft, largely on weekends, for 14 years in the Reserves, with 2,000 hr logged.

What was most memorable was his passing reference to what he voiced as his service’s strategic mission: defend the southeast corner of Australia at all costs against potential incursions from any invading threat directed against the country from the northwest. In other words, if push came to shove and Australia was invaded, the military would form its last-stance defense as far north of the population centers of Sydney and Melbourne as possible and await support from allied powers like New Zealand and the United States. The Chinook would be a key people-mover and heavy-lift asset at the front.

I look forward to future updates from the PacRim via Mr. O’Shea’s continuing R&W contributions.

Jack Bowdle Director, Commercial Sales SimAuthor, Inc.

Do you have comments on the rotorcraft industry or recent articles and viewpoints we’ve published? Send them to: Editor, Rotor & Wing, 4 Choke Cherry Road, Second Floor, Rockville, Md. 20850, fax us at 301-354-1809, or e-mail us at rotorandwing@accessintel.com. Please include a city and state or province with your name and ratings. We reserve the right to edit all submitted material.

R&W’s Question of the Month

Which is a more critical issue today, the supply of pilots or the supply of mechanics?

Let us know, and look for your and others’ responses in a future issue. You’ll find contact information at the bottom of page 8.

Live chat by BoldChat