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Sabah Air clarifies purchase of two helicopters December 16, 2011

Posted by wong jimmy in Abuse.
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The Borneo Post

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd chairman Datuk Yussof Mohd Kassim has issued a press statement to counter allegations by Sri Tanjung assemblyman cum Sabah DAP chairman Jimmy Wong’s allegations about two of its helicopters, the EC145 and AS355NP.

Jimmy described the two helicopters as ‘scrap metal’ and the purchase was a waste of the people’s money. He also claimed that the aircraft were not suitable for rural areas as they would ‘take of the roof of houses’ if they tried to land in the villages.

Yussof in his statement that he read out to reporters yesterday said that before the acquisition of the EC145 and AS355NP helicopters, Sabah Air used to operate one of the oldest fleets in the region.

The management was mindful of the issues which led to a program to renew and modernize its current fleet of aircraft to ensure that its products and services were competitive, he said, adding that the company always ensured continuous improvement in all aspects of the company’s operation.

It was also prudent to ensure that fleet expansion and renewal was carried out on the basis of an up-coming possible contract. The decision to renew its fleet of helicopters and the decision to purchase Eurocopter EC145 and AS355NP are that of the Board of Directors of Sabah Air in a series of discussion and evaluation of the various types of aircraft with consultation with the technical team.

“It is purely a commercial and strategic business decision,” he added.

“As in all commercial dealings, Sabah Air needs to position and improve its chances to move forward. In doing so, the company must have the right tools and equipment to bid for tenders that are opened to the company.

“The Medical Services Contract was opening for tender as soon as the current contract expires. The new contract specification requires the successful contractor to use the next generation helicopters (e.g. Twin Engine Requirement); keeping in mind safety as a primary concern. The then fleet of Sabah Air was no longer suitable to bid for this contract. Hence the said helicopters were procured to meet the requirement of the end user,” he disclosed.

According to him, the AS355NP and EC145 helicopters are twin engine helicopters and unique to Sabah Air as the company has always been operating Bell helicopters in the past. The Bell helicopters are single engine helicopters.

As a matter of fact, Sabah Air’s EC145 helicopter was the first of such model being acquired in Malaysia, he added.

“The accusation that the EC145 cannot land in rural areas is an irresponsible statement. As a prudent operator, all measures and steps are taken, considering the safety aspects of the people, to choose a suitable landing point and not otherwise that will pose a threat to the safety of the people and their properties, as alleged.

“We cannot just simply land where we like; there are landing provision made by authorities and there are no cases of rooftops being blown off,” he said.

He also countered Jimmy’s accusation that there was no pilot who flew the AS355NP as another misinformed accusation as the said helicopter was flown in from Kuala Lumpur by Sabah Air’s pilot in 2010.

“The resignation of the said pilot from the company relates to a personal decision at his own accord because he was offered better terms elsewhere. It is a normal scenario in any commercial entities; helicopter pilots being a very scarce profession nowadays.

“Nevertheless, it should be noted that such scarceness of the said resources would not ensure guaranteed employment in any Aviation Organization if the person is found to have violated the company’s safety code,” he stressed.

“The statement that the said helicopters are scrap metal is an outrageous lie and irresponsible accusation that tarnishes the good name of Sabah Air. The helicopters were originally flown in all the way from Kuala Lumpur, and was also recently flown back to Kuala Lumpur and then to Langkawi for LIMA `11. This is ample proof that the said helicopters are definitely airworthy for revenue flights.

“With respect to the allegation of wasting people’s money for purchasing the helicopters, Yang Berhormat Jimmy Wong is reminded that the purchase does not deprive the interest of other needs of Sabahans with respect to state fund provisioning for building roads and basic infrastructure.

“As such the people’s interest and welfare at large are not affected. On the contrary, it improves the communication in the rural areas which are not accessible by road. In the event of emergency, life and death situation, air transport is the only solution.

“The people of Sabah will benefit from the service which will definitely improve their standard of living through better technology and facilities. In conclusion, Sabah Air is predominantly in the business of saving lives,” he said.

Sabah Air CEO Manu Sasidharan when explaining about the leasing of EC145 to Eurocopter for the LIMA air show at a token nominal sum of RM1said the company had decided to send the aircraft to Langkawi but the cost involved was quite heavy.

“So we approached Eurocopter and parked the aircraft under their booths for about three months. To do that we need to do a lease agreement because when you do it under a lease agreement, the cost of insurance will be passed to the temporary holder.

“The cost of taking the aircraft to LIMA and all other associated costs is RM844,729.21. The advantage to Sabah Air was that we saved that amount as it was borne by Eurocopter for that nominal RM1 transfer for three months on a transfer agreement.

“The agreement also stated that whatever cost that we incurred in terms of our crew during the transfer to KK-KL-Langkawi they will pay for it, they will basically maintain the aircraft for this period of time at their cost, they have hangered the aircraft at Subang at their cost, the cost of exhibiting at Langkawi was at their cost and the cost of participating we didn’t pay as exhibitor, we went in as trade show visitor,” he said.

On top of that, Sabah Air is given the opportunity to display and promote the potential services the helicopter has at the LIMA air show under the bigger flagship of Eurocopter. It is a business strategy and no participation fee is involved which would have been a significant cost to the company.

Being a new fleet and first of its kind in Malaysia, promotional efforts are actively made to introduce such new helicopters to the users especially the emergency medical services (EMS), search and rescue, and other utility roles which are new in Malaysia.

The participation in LIMA had successfully attracted potential users especially government departments.

Manu also explained that Sabah Air has 11 pilots and nine are helicopter pilots.

The aircraft, he said were bought with a purpose, adding that the flying doctors service was the next contract and had to be operated on a twin engine concept, so Sabah Air had to buy a new chopper.

“And then there was another concept in the emergency medical services (EMS) which is not being implemented in Malaysia yet. Sabah Air is leading that effort with the Ministry of Health and Sabah Health Department to come up with the protocol on the service.

“At this stage when we don’t have the contracts yet, so we have nominal pilots who are trained on these aircraft. When the contract starts, we have a plan to train more pilots to meet the requirements of the contract. So the allegation that we do not have pilots for this type of aircraft is completely not true,” he stressed.

Manu added that a helicopter sitting in a hanger does not make it scrap metal.

“Being an aviation man all these years I find that blasphemous. In fact I am willing to answer face to face whoever made the allegations, minus the politics, purely on the technical side and we are willing to give him a presentation on the chopper itself, take him on a ride to see Kota Kinabalu,” he said.

He also brushed aside any doubts that the helicopters are not in flying condition as the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia (DCAM) has issued certificate of airworthiness for these two aircraft.

DCAM will not issue the certificate unless and until they have irrefutable proof that these aircraft are safe machines, he stressed.

On the allegation of the helicopters not being able to land in the rural areas, Sabah Air as a responsible flight operator which is also the longest serving operator in the country at 37 years, does not go flying into a location blindly.

“We will have people to identify a preconceived determined location for landing, we check the weather, we will have a person on the ground, the community leader in the village knows and they will control the crowd on the ground,” he pointed out.

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