By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

The end of January has come and gone without the promised sea/ship trials for the new Canadian Forces Cyclone maritime helicopter.

“We’re still working out the details with Sikorsky,” Lianne LeBel said Tuesday in an interview with Defence Watch. “They’ll (the tests) start imminently.”

The sea trials should have been completed more than 20 months ago, according to the delivery schedule contracted with Sikorsky in 2004.

Public Works and Government Services spokeswoman Tricia Van der Grient had early said that the sea trials would be taking place in the new year, before the end of January. That followed claims in November by Defence Minister Peter MacKay in the fall that the first Cyclone would soon arrive in Canada.

LeBel said the tests for the Cyclone are not related to “compliance testing” of the helicopters.

“It’s to see how it (the helicopter) will fit on the ships,” she added.

But LeBel could not provide more specific details about the tests, adding that more information will be released later.

Sources tell Defence Watch that part of the delay is because of the planning for a “media event” to unveil the arrival of the helicopter in Canada. That is to offset the negative publicity and numerous delays that has dogged the troubled multi-billion project. It is still unclear whether the media event will go ahead, according to sources.

After the sea trials and completion of other flight testing to verify compliance, Sikorsky is required to start the delivery of the Interim Maritime Helicopter (IMH) in November 2010 as per the contract, according to Public Works.

After many denials, the government announced in December 2008 that the $5 billion project was not going to make its original delivery deadlines and that it would cost taxpayers more than originally expected.

Little additional information has been released on the troubled project, sparking concerns about further cost overruns and more delays. The ongoing secrecy has also raised issues about a lack of public accountability concerning the money being spent.

Members of DND’s helicopter project office have repeatedly declined interview requests. Van der Grient also confirmed PWGC does “not grant interviews on this issue.”

Sikorsky still has not responded to a Defence Watch request for comment made months ago.

The first Cyclone helicopter was originally supposed to be delivered in November 2008 but that never happened.

Because of that delay, Sikorsky faced financial penalties of up to $89 million but that was set aside by the Harper government. Little explanation has been provided on why penalties that could have been imposed were not.

In January 2008 MacKay brought up the penalties after news reports suggested Sikorsky would fail to deliver the aircraft on time. He suggested they would be a deterrent to Sikorsky. “There are penalties and clauses that will kick in,” he warned.

The first 19 helicopters delivered to the Canadian Forces will be designated as Interim Maritime Helicopters (IMH). These IMH aircraft will be fully functional and able to conduct testing and evaluation and training for MH maintenance and air crews, yet will not be fully compliant with the delivery contract, according to DND. Delivery of the first fully capable MH aircraft that meets all contract specifications will be in June 2012, at which point the previous IMH aircraft will then be retrofitted.


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