India looks at European safety certification for Dhruv choppers

New Delhi, Nov 25 (IANS) India is looking at getting certification for its Dhruv helicopters from the European Aviation Safety Agency, amid reports that the South American nation of Ecuador wants to return the choppers after a string of accidents, parliament was told on Friday.

The Advanced Light Helicopters, manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), and exported to Ecuador, have sustained a series of crashes with four of the seven crashing between October 2009 to January 2015, Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Lok Sabha in a written reply.

He said the the crashes were primarily due to human error and maintenance related issues, and India is now looking at getting a certification from the European agency for the Dhruv and also planning to offer onsite maintenance support in future contracts.

Dhruv helicopters were operating normally in Ecuador until January 2015 when after the latest crash, Ecuador suspended their operation.

“HAL, on its own, deputed its experts to Ecuador in each case of accident. Ecuador Government constituted Court of Inquiry (CoI) in each case. Being the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), HAL also participated in the Court of Inquiry,” the minister said.

He added that as per CoI reports released by Ecuador Government the cause of first two accidents (FAE 604 and FAE 601) were pilot error.

“Two other Court of Inquiry reports have not been released by Ecuador Government, citing confidentiality,” he said.

The minister added that from the Flight Data Recorders (FDR) records analysed by HAL as part of CoI proceedings, the third accident (FAE 603) was due to “Pilot Associated Oscillation (human error)” and fourth one (FAE 605) was due to “failure of tail drive shaft attributed to maintenance lapse by Ecuadorian team”.

“Ecuador Government has not formally communicated to HAL or its local representative in this regard. The accident reports released by the Ecuador Government point to pilot errors in the first two cases,” he said.

The minister also said that HAL continues to pursue exports of Dhruv, and as a measure, the Defence Ministry is looking to “increase the export potential in global market”, for which HAL has approached EASA for certification of the helicopter.

Long Term Onsite Maintenance Support for three to five years will also be proposed in future contracts, Bhamre said.

The Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv is certified to International Standard as per DEF-STAN 00-0970 and nearly 200 Dhruv helicopters have been produced till date and are being operated by military and civil operators in India and abroad.

So far since 2002, 14 military and two civilian Dhruv helicopters have met with accidents. Of these, 11 happened in India and five abroad.

Out of the total 16 accidents, 12 occurred due to human error and environmental factors while four others took place due to technical reasons.