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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2922

Senator MacGIBBON(8.33) —I want to ask a question of the Minister which I was not able to ask at the time that the estimates were debated. It relates to the PC9 trainer. By way of introduction, I point out that it came out at the Estimates committee hearing that we had lost $70m on the A10 program, the Australian designed trainer, purely through departmental bungling and incompetence. It was very clear from years back that this would be its fate. The Committee asked the Department why the PC9 was selected over the PC7. The PC7 was perfectly adequate for the needs of a trainer and it was very much cheaper; it was also cheaper to operate through life. I asked:

Was any assessment made of the difference in the operational cost over the life of the type?

The witness answered:

Yes, of course.

Any reasonable person therefore would assume that an assessment had been made. I asked:

What was the difference?

The extraordinary answer came that the difference depended on how one chose to use the aircraft. The witness said:

There is a wide range of possibilities that one might examine. A number of initial studies were done that convinced the Department that there was a prima facie case that savings might be made, but that could not be defined until such time as we had an aircraft, and trials had been done to determine precisely how it might be done in service.

It is unbelievable that someone could be allowed to make such an answer in public. It is possible to define a series of training roles and to work out the through life cost of each aircraft. The aircraft which was bought, the PC9, is very sophisticated-far too sophisticated for a primary training role, which was the first requirement of it. Now we will have to buy another primary trainer because this one is too sophisticated. An article appeared in the Australian on 5 November entitled `Red faces over changes needed for RAAF trainer'. The article stated:

The Government is facing embarrassment over its decision to buy 67 PC-9 . . . Pilatus Trainers . . . following revelations that the aircraft's top speed will be reduced because the undercarriage specified by the Air Force will not fit.

According to the article:

The RAAF specified that the new trainer should be capable of landing on grass fields.

To operate from grass fields it has to have bigger, and presumably low pressure, tyres. To fit the retractable undercarriage into the wing involves, according to the article, either a complete redesign of the wing, for which the estimated cost is $100m, or the use of PC7 tyres. If they are used, they will not retract into the wing. Fairings will have to be built and the performance of the aircraft will be severely compromised. Is this article true? Is there any basis for it? If it is true, why did the Department accept the PC9 if it was so hung up on having an aircraft that could operate from a grass field? If the Department wants something to operate from a grass field, where will it be used? Not one Royal Australian Air Force airfield-certainly none of its training airfields-is unsealed. No one would envisage using a highly sophisticated turbo-prop aircraft such as this from a grass surface. There are the problems of foreign body ingestion into the turbine, propeller damage, damage to the aerofoils from stones being thrown up. There are very big limitations in training utilisation due to the weather as the field may be boggy. Is this article true?