NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 9 – Eurocopter, the manufacturer of the helicopter that crashed in June killing six Kenyan government officials, has defended the safety record of the aircraft and the procurement process.
The company dismissed several allegations made at the on-going Rawal Commission of Inquiry regarding the performance, reliability and safety record of the AS350 B3e helicopter, terming them “factually incorrect and profoundly misleading.”
A statement from Linden Birns, the spokesperson for Eurocopter Southern Africa, said that they had complied with the Kenya Police tender requirement in all aspects including the take-off weight of the proposed helicopter.
“The tender requirement specified a takeoff weight of 5000 lb and above without specifying if this was with internal or external loads or an average of both. The AS350 B3e has a takeoff weight of 4960 lb with internal load and of 6172 lb with external load,” Birns said in a statement.
The company says that the AS350 B3e purchased by the Kenya Police was a superior version of the AS350 model, with enhanced features including the latest engine, which provides increased safety performance margins at take off and decreased maintenance costs.
The company says that it was in the process of establishing its own maintenance organization in Kenya before the end of the year.
Eurocopter maintains that the AS350 helicopter is safe, citing the fact that Kenya Pipeline had operated a similar plane safely for a decade.
“Contrary to allegations, the AS350 B3 is well known to the Kenya Government. The state-owned Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) has been safely operating an AS350 B3 helicopter for more than 10 years,” the statement further indicated.
The company claimed that the AS350 is the reference aircraft and helicopter of choice for airborne law enforcement agencies around the world. In Africa; they said it was already delivering safe, reliable and capable service with police forces in Angola, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
“The AS350 B3 has demonstrated its unmatched performance, setting world records for the highest recorded landing of all aircraft categories when it landed on the top of Mt. Everest; it has also set a record of climb speed to altitude, with a climb of 9,900ft/3,000m in 2min 21seconds and the ability to hover at maximum take-off power for 30 minutes,” the statements said in defence of chopper credentials.
George Saitoti and his assistant Orwa Ojode died alongside pilots Nancy Gituanja and Luke Oyugi, as well as bodyguards Inspector Joshua Tonkei and Sergeant Thomas Murimi early in June after the aircraft came down at Ngong Hills.
So far, the commission formed to investigate their deaths led by Justice Kalpana Rawal has been told that the tender committee that procured the ill-fated Eurocopter ignored advice given by then Internal Security PS Francis Kimemia to consult an approved list of aircraft manufacturers.
The Chief Finance Officer at the police headquarters, John Wambugu, told the commission that the tender committee did not consult the Administration Police department which had the approved list of manufacturers.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has also denied ever making technical recommendations to the Police Department on the choice of a helicopter.
The technical committee that recommended the purchase of the helicopter is also said not to have factored any safety aspects.
Simon Njoroge Mugo, an aircraft engineer who was part of the committee, told the commission that product safety was not among the things the team evaluated in deciding to buy the Eurocopter helicopter instead of the Bell model.
“For close to two decades I have been in this job, in different evaluation committees and we hardly consider safety issues of different choppers. The manufacturers are expected to ensure maximum safety of their choppers,” said Mugo.