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“The Bundeswehr has decided not to commence initial flight operations with the new NH90 Sea Lion helicopter,” said a rather astonishing message from the German Ministry of Defence (MoD) this morning. Not meeting the set high standards of safety and quality were the reason given.

“We are basically convinced of the performance of the NH90 Sea Lion helicopter. However, due to the inadequate and incomplete technical documentation, it is impossible at this time to take responsibility for flight operations by the men and women of the Navy,” the MoD announced. “Meticulous and complete documentation is the basis for structured and thus safe operation, whether in basic operations or in missions.”

According to the MoD, the manufacturer Airbus Helicopters has not provided adequate documentation in time for the scheduled start of flight operations. After the Navy had taken delivery of the helicopter, the aircraft was relocated to the Nordholz naval aviation base. “The subsequent maintenance was supported by so-called ‘Interactive Electronic Technical Documentation’ (IETD) and included in depth technical evaluations. Technical documentation comprises all information relevant for the weapon system and governs its use, maintenance and repair. It provides information in a systematic manner and structures it in such a way as to ensure smooth operation. The technical documentation is therefore essential for the safe operation of the aircraft,” the MoD explained. “The inspection has so far revealed irregularities in well over 150 items. All in all, these are considerable errors that initially do not permit safe flight operation of the helicopter.”

As examples of identified deficiencies the MoD named: “Missing information on the lubrication of moving parts required during maintenance. There is a lack of information on the type of lubricants to be used and the frequency of related maintenance intervals. Irregularities in the electronic image. There are no links in the documentation. Since subsequent steps after individual tasks are not considered, the consistent processing of individual maintenance steps is only possible if the entire documentation is searched.”

As a result, the MoD concluded: “For this reason, we are refraining from prematurely starting training operations before the end of this year. The manufacturer has promised to correct relevant errors in the documentation as quickly as possible. However, the current delay has no effect on the full operational readiness of the helicopter, which is scheduled for 2023.”

Dorothee Frank