We know how to have fun here on The DEW Line, so to prove it, I spent yesterday at a military airworthiness conference in London, with lots of safety-minded types.
Between the lengthy and detailed discussions about the certification hurdles faced by companies and operators while bringing equipment like the A400M and A330 Voyager into service – and keeping it in the air as safely as can realistically be achieved thereafter – a speaker from NH Industries (NHI) added some great context drawn from the NH90 programme.
So, how many NH90 variants are there out there? Of course, we all know that the answer is two: the TTH (tactical transport helicopter) and the NFH (clunkily-named NATO frigate helicopter). Wrong, said our presenter. In fact, 20 individual variants exist, with this sprawling further down to comprise some 38 sub-variants. Not bad going, when you consider that NHI has so far delivered 161 of the twin-engined type to 12 operator nations.
But why does this matter? There’s limited cross-over between approval processes between the variants, meaning lots of flight-testing and certification items have to be ticked off multiple times. And with around 400 service bulletins issued for the type to date, each affecting perhaps several sub-variants, it goes some way to explaining why everything seems to take quite a long time to achieve.
Producing an aircraft like the NH90 for users spread throughout Europe and as far away as Oman, Australia and New Zealand (Eurocopter-sourced image, above) from six final assembly lines was never going to be straightforward, but NHI seems to have spawned something of a fleet management nightmare. EADS chief executive Tom Enders earlier this month called for improvements in military certification processes to remove duplication between nations and at suppliers, and cut the time needed to bring equipment like the A400M into frontline use. Looking at the NH90 as an example, I see what he means.