Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (20, 21, 22)

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

17 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the provision of a new fleet of light utility helicopters for the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3294/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

28 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Defence the progress which has been made by the interdepartmental working group to seek alternative solutions for the provision of funding for helicopters required by the Air Corps; when he expects to receive the report of the group; when he expects a decision to be made on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3293/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

31 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Defence further to his announcement in December 2003 for the procurement of a new fleet of light utility helicopters, when the tendering process will begin; the number of helicopters being considered for purchase; the expected cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3381/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17, 28 and 31 together.

When the decision to cancel the tender competition for medium lift helicopters was made in July 2002, I asked my officials to initiate a review of the provision of helicopters services, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, to determine how best to meet the State's obligations in search and rescue, while taking account of the current financial position.

In parallel with this, a joint military-civil board was established to review the overall rotary wing requirements for the Air Corps, in particular, the possible procurement of modern light utility helicopters for the Air Corps, to replace its current fleet of Alouettes and Gazelles.

In view of the overlapping issues relating to the acquisition of both light utility and medium lift helicopters, the work of both groups was incorporated into the report of the joint civil-military board on rotary wing requirements of the Air Corps. This report was completed towards the end of last year and was the subject of detailed consideration by senior civil and military management in my Department, having regard to the costs of the overall programme, the need to prioritise investment in the context of limited resources and the demands on the Defence Vote arising from other investment priorities.

While the report was under consideration, certain developments occurred in relation to the Air Corps search and rescue service in the north west, resulting in my decision to withdraw the Air Corps from this mission. Against this background, senior civil and military management in my Department have requested the board to revisit its report to identify any changes, which should be made, having regard to the decision on search and rescue. However, they have also recommended to me that we should immediately proceed with the acquisition of light utility helicopters, as a matter of priority, the exact number of aircraft to be determined by the board following its review of the statistical data.

Since the board is now reviewing the data to determine the number of helicopters to be purchased, I cannot state with certainty the exact number of aircraft to be purchased. However, I am advised that it is likely to be between four and six aircraft. In regard to overall cost, at this stage in a tender competition it would be inappropriate of me to speculate as to the cost involved or the resources we have identified for the procurement of the aircraft. Costing assumptions have been made by the board in the context of its analysis and report. However, this information is obviously commercially sensitive.

The specification for the helicopter is currently being drafted along with the tender documentation and I am advised that the formal competition should commence in the next few weeks.