My priority as Minister with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps, is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable them to carry out their roles as assigned by Government.
The Air Corps operate a fleet of fixed and rotary wing aircraft which provide military support to the Army and Naval Service, together with support for non-military air services such as Garda air support, air ambulance, fisheries protection and the Ministerial Air Transport Service.
Priorities for the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps, are considered in the context of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development, infrastructure and equipment planning processes. The principal aim over the period of the White Paper is to replace and upgrade, as required, existing capabilities in order to retain a flexible response for a wide range of operational requirements, both at home and overseas.
Work is well advanced in relation to updating the Air Corps' fleet of aircraft with the replacement of the current Air Corps Cessna fleet with three larger aircraft which will be equipped for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) as provided for in the White Paper. Following an open tender competition, a contract was placed with Pilatus Aircraft Ltd in December 2017 for the provision of three PC-12 fixed wing utility aircraft suitably equipped for ISTAR tasks which will replace the Cessna fleet. The contract is well underway and it is expected that the three aircraft will be delivered by 2020.
The White Paper also provides for the replacement of the two CASA 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft with consideration of their replacement with larger more capable aircraft, which would enhance maritime surveillance and provide a greater degree of utility for transport and cargo carrying tasks. A public tender competition for the replacement of the CASA Maritime Patrol Aircraft is underway in my Department at present and it is expected to be completed shortly.
The existing fleet of eight (8) Pilatus PC9 training aircraft is not due for replacement until 2025. The current fleet of two (2) EC 135 and six (6) AW 139 helicopters will continue to deliver the required Defence Forces support and other support capabilities over the lifetime of the White Paper. The Air Corps also operates one (1) Lear LR45 aircraft which is used primarily in the provision of the Ministerial Air Transport Service.
In addition to the training and operational aircraft outlined above, the Air Corps operates one (1) Britten Norman Defender fixed wing aircraft and two (2) EC135 helicopters for An Garda Síochána.
In order to ensure their operational capability, all Air Corps aircraft must undergo regular maintenance and scheduled overhauls to ensure they are fully airworthy and meet the certification standards laid down for the aviation industry.