Three Kamov helicopters expected to be operational in Portugal this fire season

Currently none of the six Kamov ships can be used on wildfires

Above: Kamov KA-32A on standby at Loulé heliport in Portugal. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 10 a.m. MT February 25, 2018)

Portugal’s Ministry of Internal Administration has said it expects three of their six Kamov helicopters to be operational for this wildfire season.

From The Portugal News, February 15, 2018:

Of the state’s three heavy helicopters, one has had mechanical problems since 2012, while the other two have been awaiting repairs since 2015 – none of these form part of the firefighting forces. The remaining three Kamovs that are included in the force are also currently out of action – two for maintenance and the other because of “lack of certification”.

In comments to Lusa News Agency, the ministry explains that the two Kamovs that are currently being repaired are being given their 10-year revision. The third is operational, “although unavailable [due] to lack of certification of a component by the aeronautics authority” and is set to go on for its 10-year revision this month.

However, the ministry says, these three Kamovs “should be operational for [use] in fighting fires” this year.

These aircraft have been surrounded in controversy since the second-hand  aircraft were purchased from Russians in 2007. Two of them have been grounded since they were acquired and others have been out of service for years at a time.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Algarve Daily News, September 6, 2016:

Major-General Francisco Grave Pereira, the head of Portugal’s National Civil Protection Authority, has had to resign and will face charges after the General Inspectorate of Internal Affairs (IGAI) accused him of a failure to act in the public interest in the Kamov fire-fighting helicopter purchase from the Russians and subsequent transfer to the private company Everjets.

One of the main beneficiaries of Portugal’s spate of fires is Everjets, bought by Domingos Névoa in 2015 along with a convenient long-term contract signed by the Civil Protection Authority.

The Inspectorate’s long-overdue report blamed Major-General Pereira for a breach of duty of care over the cost of repairs ordered by the Civil Protection Authority for the six helicopters, two of them remaining grounded ever since they were bought from the Russians.

The opening of the investigation came after the Civil Protection Authority detected “serious problems in the State-owned aircraft” which were transferred to Everjets.

Of the six Kamov helicopters bought, only three are fit to fly. Two have damaged mechanical systems and the third has never worked at all.

Meanwhile the government in Portugal is having difficulty awarding contracts for other helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, according to Publico, February 17, 2018 (roughly translated by Google):

With less than three months to go before the start of the critical fire phase, the government is struggling to close its international tender for the lease of 50 fire-fighting facilities between helicopters and airplanes for three years. The jury ruled out almost all the tenders that submitted to the competition, admitting only one company, Helibravo, to rent ten light helicopters, according to the preliminary report to which the PUBLIC had access.

If this award could be delayed because of the contestation, as for the remaining 39 aircraft, there is no way for the procedure to proceed. The Ministry of Home Affairs was left without proposals for another 27 light helicopters, four Canadair, six Fireboss amphibious aircraft, the twin-engine observation aircraft (which no one competed for) and the light helicopter to Madeira.

Kamov KA-32A
Kamov KA-32A on standby at Loulé heliport in Portugal. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In 2013 a KA-32 made a crash landing in British Columbia. Thankfully the two pilots walked away with no injuries.

Kamov KA-32 helicopter crashes while fighting wildfire in B.C.

Kamov 32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal
Kamov KA-32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal, similar to the one that crashed in B.C. Sunday. Photo by Bill Gabbert, August 29, 2012.

A Russian-built Kamov KA-32 helicopter made a crash landing in British Columbia Sunday, August 4. Jen Norie of VIH Aviation Group confirmed that one of their helicopters was conducting water dropping operations on a wildfire near Bella Colla, British Columbia using an external bucket when the aircraft developed an engine problem. The ship made a hard landing on uneven terrain collapsing at least one landing gear, which caused the aircraft to tip over about 30 degrees. The twin overhead counter-rotating main rotors struck the ground, which of course destroyed them.

Thankfully the two pilots walked away with no injuries, so in that sense it was a “good landing”. There were no passengers on board.

Ms. Norie said the company has been operating KA-32s since the mid-1990s, accumulating over 46,000 flight hours without a major incident, until Sunday.