Saturday, July 31, 2010

Apache Accident Update: Technical Support

It appears that in the final two weeks leading up to yesterday’s accident the 2nd Attack Helicopter Battalion was left without technical support from Boeing, the helicopter’s manufacturer. Bureaucracy or irresponsibility by some in the Greek Ministry of Defence blocked the signing of a standard Technical Assistance Agreement with the US State Department. This agreement binds the client, in the case the Greek government, to confidentiality with regards to classified support procedures.

The Greek Ministry of Defence was approached several times by the US side to have this agreement signed, as foreseen by the acquisition agreement. The result was that a tree man support team, two from Boeing and one from General Electric, left teh country around the 20th of July, 12 days before the tragic accident. They were no longer allowed to stay at Megara base by the US State Department as the TAA was not signed.

The two companies had actually already extended the stay of the support team on their own account, as the timeframe for them to leave was the 30th of June. They did this as the equipment was very new to the Greek Army, combined with the fact that the most experienced technicians from the Greek side had recently retired due to the new Greek pension laws. The cost of the TAA was several hundreds of thousands of dollars, an amount that is easily justified by the task at hand.

The US side notified the Greek Ministry of Defence on the 15th of June, the 12th of July and the 29th of July of the need to sign the TAA. The first notice made clear that the stay of the support team would end would end on the 30th of June. The 12th of July the Greek side was notified that according to US law the support team was by now in Greece illegally and would have to leave the country. The last notice stated that the support team would have to leave immediately.

The absence of technical support by the manufacturer with such an advanced weapons system is a major problem when the equipment has been in the inventory for less than a year. There is no justification for not signing the TAA. Even if the Greek side had objections to some or the entire agreement there should have been a notification to the US side of these disagreements. This did not happen.

If in the course of the accident investigation it is discovered that the helicopter crashed due to mechanical failure for which Boeing is responsible the absence of the Technical Assistance Agreement absolves Boeing from any responsibility.

Possible Cause of the Accident

Currently the most possible scenario as to the cause of the accident is the loss of control by the crew during an autorotation exercise. It has been confirmed that the pilot had requested permission from the control tower at Megara to perform the manoeuvre and that this permission was given.

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