Why do helicopters leave buyers in a spin?

9 February 2011
It was rather predictable that following the postponement in December, the government has decided to scrap its tender process for new search and rescue helicopters.
 This will only add to the UK government’s poor record of buying choppers. Any mention of them recalls in my mind the withering criticism of the Public Accounts Committee over the Ministry of Defence’s decision to buy eight Chinooks that couldn’t fly when it was cloudy, summed up in one of my favourite SM headlines: ‘Most incompetent procurement’ is now ‘gold-standard cock-up’. And it’s not just the UK that struggles with their purchase. Shortly after taking office across the Atlantic, President Obama laid into his own buyers over a “procurement process run amok” for the replacement of 28 “Marine One” aircraft that fly him around. "The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me. Of course, I've never had a helicopter before," he said. The Italian government too got into trouble with the European Commission a few years ago after it awarded contracts for copters without a competitive tender when they were only “possibly” for military use. I understand they are very expensive, complex machines and the supply market isn’t exactly huge, but what makes them so difficult to buy?
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