Retirement of The DHC-4 Caribou

February 19, 2009 -- The Minister for Defence, the Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon MP, today announced the Government has accepted the reality that it will be necessary to bring forward the retirement of Australia’s remaining thirteen DHC-4 Caribou aircraft to December 2009.

“The Government has been left with little choice but to retire the Caribou and has reluctantly agreed to do so despite the fact that poor planning by the former Government has denied us the opportunity to produce a replacement aircraft before 2013,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“After 45 years of tireless and distinguished service with the Royal Australian Air Force, the Caribou fleet is suffering badly from a range of ageing aircraft issues, and contains asbestos parts which I am determined to weed out of the Defence Force.”

The Royal Australian Air Force took delivery of its first Caribou in April 1964. The Caribou has a proud 45-year history of supporting Australian Defence Force operations, throughout the South West Pacific and in South East Asia, including active service in Vietnam, humanitarian relief in Kashmir, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea and also in support of peacekeeping operations in the Solomon Islands and East Timor.

Despite its outstanding track record, the Caribou is now well beyond its sustainable life of type. The Caribou fleet suffers from corrosion, fatigue and obsolescence issues that make them increasingly difficult and costly to maintain.

“Air Force is struggling to achieve four to five serviceable aircraft at any one time,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“In fact, it is a tribute to the outstanding work of 38 Squadron aircrew, technicians and support personnel that the Caribou has been able to operate as long as it has.

“The reality is that a decision should have been taken a long time ago on acquiring a tactical airlift capability to replace the Caribou. The Government has been left with no other option than to rectify yet another shortcoming we have inherited in transition planning across our entire Air Force fleet,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Project Air 8000 Phase 2 plans to deliver a Tactical Battlefield Airlift capability for the Royal Australian Air Force to replace the Caribou in 2013.

“Options for bringing forward the schedule on this project are being considered as part of the White Paper process,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

As an interim measure, a leased fleet of five additional Hawker Pacific B300 King Air aircraft will undertake light air transport tasks. These aircraft will be phased into the Townsville-based 38 Squadron as the Caribou is progressively retired toward the end of 2009. Three King Air 350 aircraft, currently operated by Army, will also be transferred across to 38 Squadron.

“The interim King Air lease will help Air Force minimise the adverse workforce issues that result from allowing gaps to develop in transitioning aircraft fleets,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“It is important that we honour the debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who have supported the Caribou for so long by providing a means for them to maintain their skills and streamline their transition to a more modern and capable replacement aircraft.”

The King Air is a modern aircraft with digital avionics, advanced displays and navigation systems and turbine engines, that will assist in transitioning 38 Squadron aircrew and technicians to the more modern aircraft types being considered under Project Air 8000 Phase 2.

“Our nation is extremely proud of the magnificent service that the Caribou has provided to the Royal Australian Air Force over the past five decades. While there may be some who are saddened to hear of the Caribou’s impending retirement, even the most vocal supporters of the Caribou will agree this decision is long overdue.”

“The men and women of 38 Squadron have been waiting for many years to know what the future holds. Today’s decision gives reassurance to them that the Government is very aware of both the challenges they face in trying to sustain such an ageing aircraft and the career management uncertainty that has been unnecessarily forced upon them after so many years of empty promises and inaction,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.(mediacentre)

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