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Whirlybirds make for giggly politics

What is it about helicopters and politicians, the latter being Canadian and Irish? Do the revolving blades so fascinate them that they become mesmerized and lose all common sense, in the process evoking giggles and groans from their taxpaying publics?

In Canada the helicopter caper surrounds the replacement of 40-year old Sea Kings, and in Ireland buying one helicopter for the Garda (Police) Air Support Unit is upsetting the Garda, the Air Corps, and the politicians serving on the Public Accounts Committee.

The Sea King saga in Canada has seen the antique aircraft marking their age with a succession of crashes, with danger to life and limb and embarrassment for the country as a whole. One of the more recent snafus involved a Sea King attempting to take off from a naval vessel a short time following its departure en route to the Persian Gulf. It managed to rise a few feet before landing on its side back on deck.

To cut this part of the story short before another Sea King mishap makes headlines, a replacement order for new helicopters was signed ten years ago by the then Progressive Conservative Government. That order was cancelled by its successor Liberal Government, which had to pay $500 million in fees to do so. Since then that government has sought to buy its own version of a replacement fleet, tinkering with specifications to do so, and now the acquisition of new fleet will not commence until 2008. By then the Sea Kings will be two years short of fifty years old.

It's a tale of a different kind in Ireland. There one new helicopter made its way into service, but it cost £3 million in excess of the initial estimate of £5.66 million. Then it had to be grounded because it could not safely fly through clouds or at night.

Anybody who knows anything at all about the Emerald Isle knows it is a cloudy land. Clouds are constantly in its skies, and contribute to its beautiful land and seascapes. Artists rave about its ever-changing sunlight and shadow.

Did those who drew up the specifications for the new helicopter have their minds completely clouded over when doing so? Did they realize there is a difference between night and day? One is dark, the other bright, even if cloudy at times.

And wouldn't you know it? It was in County Clare it was discovered that the helicopter could not fly on a dark and cloudy night. With apologies to Percy French and the West Clare Railway:

Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right,
Do ye think we'll get home before the night?
Shure it all depends on whether black clouds stay away,
And they might now, Michael, so they might.

Since this e-zine links Canada and Ireland, Canadian authorities tasked with replacing the Sea Kings might well learn from their Irish counterparts who found out the hard way that whirlybirds evoke giggles and groans when they cannot perform satisfactorily.

Remember: night dark, day bright. Measure twice, cut once. Make one project manager happy, and stay out of Hansard.


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