The Royal New Zealand Air Force has cleared its fleet of NH90 medium utility helicopters of any problems after the fatal crash of an Australian Army MRH90 Taipan helicopter in The Whitsundays.
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A 48-hour pause was initially implemented on all Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) NH90 medium utility helicopters including three deployed to Exercise Talisman Sabre, following the tragic loss of the ADF helicopter and four onboard aircrew.
MRH90 Taipan helicopters operated by the Australian Army remain grounded, while investigations continue into the crash.
RNZAF Chief Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Clark said the NZ pause on flying of the eight New Zealand NH90 helicopters operated by the Ohakea-based No. 3 Squadron had been a precautionary approach.
“The pause was so the Air Force could conduct a risk assessment. That assessment looked at airworthiness and safety, including systems and processes, as well as any new information from the Australian Defence Force, other users, and the manufacturer,” he said.
“We have not identified any new hazards or elevated risks that are not already considered within the RNZAF NH90 airworthiness framework. Accordingly, I have directed that the operating pause is lifted without any restrictions.”
The ruling comes as more than 300 New Zealand Defence Force troops head back across the ditch after taking part in an enormous military exercise throughout late July and early August featuring 30,000 military personnel from 13 countries.
New Zealand fielded a 150-strong NZ Army combat team mounted in light armoured vehicles, as well as New Zealand liaison officers for support about Australian process, planning, and procedures.
A 10-strong Royal New Zealand Navy autonomous underwater vehicle team also embarked on expeditionary ship USS Miguel Keith, joining a Royal Australian Navy combined mine countermeasures task force to detect and disarm or destroy ordnance.
Major Steffan Wuts, the officer commanding the 150-strong combat team, said the exercise confirmed the NZ Army’s readiness to conduct combat operations and to test interoperability with the Australians and others.
“The great part about this exercise is that we get to practise operating in an unfamiliar environment with other factors like flanking multinational forces, which adds a level of complexity that we wouldn’t get in our usual training,” he said.
“Although the overall tempo of the exercise is probably slower than what we were expecting because of its size, we did have contact with the enemy, we went into our trained and rehearsed standard operating procedures and for the most part that put us in good stead to beat the enemy’s actions.”
Talisman Sabre is the first time New Zealand and Australia have exercised together since the signing of the Plan ANZAC bilateral service cooperation plan, which formalises army to army cooperation across strategic engagement, capability, training, readiness, and common personnel issues.