Eating their own: Helicopter cannibalisation
06 March 2008
The extent of helicopter cannibalisations has been revealed, showing the armed forces heavy reliance on spare parts from other helicopters for operational duties.
In the current fiscal year, the armed forces have cannibalised parts from other aircraft 1,825 times for army, navy and RAF helicopters. This actually represents a decrease of 32 per cent or 847 incidents from the previous year. The highest number of occurrences was in 2003, when there were 3,433 cannibalisations of aircraft for parts.
The Merlin 1 and Merlin 3 have consitently been cannibalised the most in a given year since 2003. Last year, each type of aircraft was cannibalised 407 and 265 times respectively. The highest single rate of cannibalisation was the RAF’s Chinook 2/2A in 2004-’05 when the aircraft was used 1021 times to support other aircraft’s technical issues.
Cannibalisation is the process in which technicians take parts from a functioning aircraft to help fix a broken one. Armed forces minister Bob Ainsworth defended that high number of cannibalisations, saying that it helped to keep the highest number of aircraft operational. He said that in certain circumstances such as in frontline operations, mechanics had no other option but to borrow parts from other aircraft.
“All instances of cannibalisation are authorised and undertaken in accordance with clearly defined regulations. The term ‘cannibalisation’ can refer to the removal of single or small numbers of components, of any size. It does not necessarily refer to the wholesale utilisation of capital components or airframes,” Ainsworth told Parliament.