SINTRA, Portugal --- Having to let go of something close, doesn’t need to have a sense of loss. When the European Defence Agency (EDA) sees its home-grown Helicopter Exercise Programme, its Helicopter Tactics Course and its Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course move to the new permanent Multinational Helicopter Training Centre (MHTC) in Portugal by the end of 2022, after many successful years at EDA, it does so with a feeling of ‘mission accomplished’.
It is a basic principle underlying all training activities run by EDA: as soon as a programme reaches a sustainable level of support, maturity and output, the aim becomes to transfer it to a permanent facility hosted and managed by one of Member States involved. For the Agency’s ambition is not to become a permanent training institute but to serve as a catalyst and facilitator for collaborative training activities which later on will be taken care of by a Member State or an organisation – allowing the Agency to free resources and engage in other training projects.
The move in June 2017 of EDA’s European Air Transport Fleet training programme to the new permanent European Tactical Airlift Centre (ETAC) in Zaragoza/Spain, after six years of busy activities at EDA – 87 aircrews trained, 50 tactical instructor pilots graduate, 94 European transport aircraft involved – stands out as a shining example of this policy.
It will be followed soon by the Agency’s three multinational rotary-wing training programmes: the Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP), the Helicopter Tactics Course (HTC) and the Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course (HTIC). Launched in 2009 and supported by 15 countries (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia, Norway as well as the United Kingdom – up till Brexit), this trio has since become one of EDA’s most dynamic and successful training activities, highly appreciated in Europe’s rotary wing community.
By the end of 2022, their new home will be Sintra/Portugal: that’s what the Agency’s Steering Board decided in August 2019 when it green-lit the setting-up of a new Multinational Helicopter Training Centre (MHTC).
A new permanent home
The objective is to make this MHTC a permanent European centre of excellence for advanced helicopter training. It will deliver administrative and training functions to serve both as a central hub for the coordination of helicopter training across Europe, but also as the provider of the next iteration of the HEP, HTC and HTIC programmes currently run by the Agency.
The centre is expected to reach initial operational capability (IOC) by the end of 2022, although the Covid-19 crisis impact may alter this date, and it is estimated it will operate for a period of 15 years, which can be extended to 30 years following the agreement of its contributing Member States.
The next major milestone in the preparation is the harmonisation of the MHTC Technical Agreement, expected by the beginning of 2021, and the build-up of the infrastructures in Sintra which should be finished before the IOC MHTC.
Gradual hand-over starting this summer
The move to Sintra will be gradual, starting soon – this summer with the transfer of EDA’s helicopter training centre from its traditional location, RAF airbase Linton-on-Ouse in the United Kingdom (in the process of being dismantled), to Sintra Air Force airbase which will already be operational, on a provisional basis, between mid-2020 and the end of 2022 when it will fully take over its new MHTC role. The full set of training equipment will be moved from Linton-on-Ouse to Sintra, except the helicopter simulator which is being replaced with a new one.
This article was first published in EDA's 'European Defence Matters' magazine N° 19 published in June 2020.