It has been a year since the Lynx aircraft flew its last trip in the coast guard's service. The new NH90 helicopters that are supposed to already be in service have been been greatly delayed, with the first helicopter originally scheduled to be in Norway in 2005. Since then there have been several shifts in the timeframe and the coast guard is now dependent on external help to maintain expertise in helicopter operations.
'Risk of distintigration'
"This exists as a result of a temporary vacuum in which operational capability is somewhat weakened, and how important expertise is at risk of disintegrating," wrote Commodore Sverre Nordahl Engeness in a letter to The Governor of Svalbard.
Lack of their own helicopters forced the coast guard earlier this year to ask the governor for help getting a checkout of personnel on board the KV Svalbard.
The governor provided one of the search-and-rescue helicopters which, among other things, was manned by personnel trained in various approaches and refueling in the air.
"That occurred in connection with the transition from the Lynx to the NH90, which obviously has taken longer than we had thought, which means we cannot provide the necessary training for our crew," said Cmdr. Morten Nyheim Jørgensen when asked by Svalbardposten how the coast guard is hampered.
NH90 next year
KV Svalbard sails primarily in the Fisheries Protection Zone and the coast guard considers the need to maintain helicopter skills high. With the governor's help the crew checked out, which is important for preparedness, Jørgensen said.
The delay in the European NH90 program meant it was necessary to extend the life of the already aging Lynx helicopters no less than three times.
Last year the Norwegian Armed Forces received the first of the new helicopters and started test flights. The goal then was the coast guard ship KV Senja would be ready to patrol with a helicopter on board by the middle of 2015. Now if everything goes well the NH90 be operational by the second quarter of 2016. According to Jørgensen, the KV Svalbard will be equipped with a helicopter during 2016, or early in 2017 at the latest.
"How the KV Svalbard is now and until it has been in for an update, it will sail as a platform to land on," he said. "That is the process as the helicopters become operational and the updates are occurring at the same time."
The governor has participated in two phases of exercises this year to checkout the personnel on board the KV Svalbard and thus make them qualified for helicopter operations. In addition, the crew of the governor's helicopter is training with the coast guard vessel, which in turn can allow for a greater operating range and longer times in the air.
"It is the Inspector of the Norwegian Coast Guard's firm belief that this helps to improve search and rescue preparedness on the high seas in the north and, not least, ensures greater flexibility for both the coast guard and The Governor of Svalbard," Engeness wrote.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini