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Defence to outsource F-111 unit Print
The Australian
Sean Parnell - 14mar06

THE Defence Department has been forced to call in private operators to maintain the engines of its ageing F-111 fleet and stop key ground crew taking jobs elsewhere at a time of uncertainty over the future of the planes.

As the aviation sector expands in southeast Queensland and companies search for more skilled workers, the Defence Materiel Organisation has moved to commercialise the F-111 engines business unit to keep staff at the Amberley air base.

Engine maintenance survived the privatisation push of the late 1990s when Defence opted for a $200million in-house arrangement over competing tenders from Air New Zealand Engineering Services and Qantas Defence Systems.

But a Defence spokesperson yesterday confirmed DMO had begun negotiations with Tasman Aviation Enterprises over the future of the engines business unit.

TAE is a subsidiary of Air New Zealand and holds the contract for the F-111 workshop's business unit.

The company, which will continue to be based at Amberley, plans to pursue other military maintenance work in the Asia-Pacific region if it secures the maintenance contract.

As part of the commercialisation process, Defence asked interested companies whether they could provide work for staff at the engines business unit beyond the F-111's planned withdrawal from service in 2010-2012.

The unit employs 160 people at Amberley.

"Defence is conducting the commercialisation project in order to mitigate possible loss of staff by establishing arrangements which should provide employment opportunities beyond F-111 withdrawal," the spokesperson said.

TAE general manager Andrew Sanderson yesterday said the company already had 85 staff at Amberley and expected to take on more than 100 from the engines business unit, raising the prospect of some job losses.

Mr Sanderson said TAE would provide support for the F-111s and, at the same time, pursue contracts to maintain military equipment for other clients in the region in the belief southeast Queensland was well positioned to become an aviation service hub.

The Defence spokesperson said the decision to outsource the business would not increase costs for the department. The spokesperson said the contract, likely to be signed later this year, would be "tailored to the withdrawal of the F-111 through the use of options".

The RAAF operates 17 F-111C strike aircraft, four RF-111C reconnaissance aircraft and five F-111G training aircraft.

The training aircraft are being decommissioned as they need deeper maintenance. There are now nine F-111Gs in storage or being used for spare parts.

The F-111Cs are being upgraded ahead of their planned withdrawal and Defence will rely on beefed-up F/A-18 fighters ahead of the new-generation joint strike fighters being brought online.

The Commonwealth plans to buy up to 100 Joint Strike Fighter F-35s, perhaps as late as 2020, at a cost of more than $12billion but has been criticised for abandoning the successful F-111s without having fully tested the new aircraft.
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