The Portuguese Air Force is having some serious maintenance problems with its twelve EH101 helicopters. Ordered in 2001, the last one arrived four years ago. The EH101s were bought for search and rescue missions, and in the last five years have been in the air for over 10,000 hours and saved 650 lives. The manufacturer, Agusta Westland (which renamed the EH101 the AW101 Merlin three years ago) is hustling to find out what the problem is, and fix it.
The 101s were sold partly on the basis of their requiring less maintenance than similar helicopters from other manufacturers. But the Portuguese complain that the 101s require more work, and it's often the case that only half of them are available for service. The manufacturer is keen to clean up this mess before it hurts sales efforts elsewhere.
The 101s are 15 ton medium transport helicopters that entered service ten years ago. Merlins can carry five tons of cargo or twenty troops. Top speed is 300 kilometers an hour and endurance is about four hours. They cost about $25 million each. About 180 101s are in use worldwide, and have spent about 200,000 hours in the air. They have an excellent reliability and safety record. These are being used in Afghanistan as transports.