Defence Minister reviews HATS progress at Nowra

The EC-135T2 Helicopter conducts flight trials at HMAS Albatross.
An Airbus Helicopters EC135 T2+ helicopter conducting flight trials at HMAS Albatross. (Defence)

Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne has inspected progress in the development of the AIR 9000 Phase 7 Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) at HMAS Albatross along with Ann Sudmalis, Member for Gilmore.

The project, for which Boeing Defence Australia is the prime contractor, will provide a joint training system to prepare Royal Australian Navy and Australian Army aircrew for conversion to operational helicopter types.

Once operational next year, the facility will support the training of up to 116 pilots, aviation warfare officers, aircrew, sensor operators and instructors a year, Minister Payne stated on March 17.

The first group of instructors has begun training, Navy Daily reported on February 23; Boeing and Thales will teach them how to operate the Airbus Helicopters EC135 T2+ and full-flight simulator. This group will validate the training they will deliver to students when the Joint Helicopter School opens in January 2018.

“The new Helicopter Aircrew Training System will provide streamlined initial pilot training in a highly realistic environment for our Navy and Army personnel,” Minister Payne said in a statement.

“As part of the training system, 15 Airbus EC135 helicopters will be based at Nowra, replacing the Navy’s Squirrel and Army’s Kiowa helicopters, which are more than 30 and 40 years old respectively. The project includes a new training centre with three flight simulators, refurbished hangars and workshops and new living accommodation.”

According to the Defence Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements 2016-17 document, the project’s budget estimate for the financial year 2016-17 has been revised down by $71 million (or 37 per cent) to $122 million “due to industry delays early in the project and consequent slippage of milestones”. AIR 9000 Phase 7 has a total approved budget of $480 million.

The Defence Portfolio Budget Statements 2016-17 had noted that the Helicopter Aircrew Training System project was “approximately six months behind schedule in the design of the total training system”.

A spokesperson for Boeing told Australian Defence Business Review: “Boeing Defence Australia is executing the Helicopter Aircrew Training System program to an agreed plan in partnership with the Commonwealth. This will deliver a world-class training program for the Australian Defence Force by the originally contracted training commencement date of early 2018.”