A TEAM OF SENIOR Australian Army officers has recommended to defence minister Robert Ray that the Defence Force's 22 Nomad utility aircraft be permanently grounded and disposed of as unfit for military service.

The Army has also sought approval to acquire replacement aircraft. Ray is expected to make a decision before the end of July.

The report cites structural failures, continuing heavy maintenance on the aircraft's horizontal stabiliser and aerodynamic problems leading to torsional failure of aileron structures and flap damage.

It also says that ASTA (formerly the Government Aircraft Factory, which designed and built the Nomad), had been unable to provide adequate engineering support for the type. Several fatal accidents have been attributed to the structural failures, with a total of 56 people killed in ten Nomad crashes worldwide. A further 14 non-fatal crashes have been recorded.

Grounding would pose major problems for the Australian Government. Some 20 Nomad 22s and four N24s are in service with the Thai navy and air force; 12 with the Philippine air force, and about 16 with the Indonesian navy.

About half the foreign military aircraft were donated under foreign-aid programmes and half were sold. Civil Nomads are also operated in some countries.

Some of the Defence Force's short-term needs are being met by dry-leased Embraer Bandeirantes and de Havilland Twin Otters, but a grounding would also impose a need to advance the progress of Project Air 87, which is aimed at redefining Australia's battlefield air-mobility capability.

The Nomad replacement may be a combination of aircraft. Contenders are the Beech King Air 200, Pilatus PC-12, and Pilatus Britten, Norman Defender 4000.

Source: Flight International