The NH-90 helicopters, under service since December 2011, have been a point of concern for the French Navy and the French Army Light Aviation (ALAT). Their availability has consistently been reported as inadequate.
The State of Affairs
Naval and military chiefs are frustrated due to the low availability rate and high maintenance costs of these helicopters. As of October 2021, the 26 helicopters in service had only four available. By January 2022, that number had slightly improved to seven.
Criticism from the Armed Forces
Florence Parly, the French Minister of Armed Forces, was vocal about her displeasure with Airbus Helicopters. She blamed them for not maintaining the helicopters adequately post-production. This criticism sparked measures to address the issue.
Plan of Action
An initial step was the establishment of a technical assistance program aimed at improving the availability of NH-90 helicopters. Airbus Helicopters, as the manufacturer, was expected to contribute significantly to this initiative. The program was part of a broader plan proposed by the manufacturers to have 12 helicopters available by the end of 2022, equating to a technical availability rate of 44%.
Some progress has been noted, especially with the NH-90 Tactical Transport Helicopters (TTH) used by the ALAT. Their availability has shown signs of improvement. However, the overall availability of all helicopters doesn't necessarily mark success. Operational preparedness requires flying hours, which do not always correlate with the sheer availability of helicopters.
Efforts are ongoing to enhance the technical availability of the helicopters through collaboration with manufacturers. One idea being considered is to increase the inspection frequency, especially for the NH90 fleet. This measure, if implemented, could potentially improve the maintenance and, consequently, the availability of these helicopters.