The high cost of training aircrews for the U.K.'s battlefield support helicopters is prompting senior officers to look at cheaper options to maintain crew currency.

With types such as the CH-47 Chinook costing what commanders describe as in the “high teens” of thousands of pounds per hour to operate, officials from the U.K.'s tri-service Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) are drawing up ideas to potentially introduce a less expensive rotorcraft fitted with a comparable modern avionics suite to keep crews current.

“Forty-five percent of the army's running cost bill is taken up by helicopters, . . . and we have got to reduce those costs,” Brig. Neil Sexton, JHC deputy commander, said at the IQPC International Military Helicopter conference here late last month.

The JHC also aims to release what commanders call “front-line flying equity” back to the British Army so that training flights benefit soldiers who will use the platforms on battlefield, as well.

Studies for what JHC officials describe as a surrogate training helicopter are looking at whether two or three of the twin-engine helos would be based at each of the key support helicopter bases, as Cold War-style “hack” aircraft, on which Chinook crews in particular could be dual-qualified. This would allow them to maintain their currency in basic flying skills on the new type.

Officials say there could also be synergies with the future training rotorcraft of the U.K.'s Defense Helicopter Flying School, and that the surrogate type could be maintained and owned by a contractor.

Furthermore, the new aircraft could replace leased Bell 212s, owned and maintained by Cobham-owned FBHeliservices, that are supporting British Army training in Brunei and Kenya, as well as Westland-built Aerospatiale Gazelles on reconnaissance and support missions in Northern Ireland. The JHC is also considering whether it could replace the Bell 212 on casualty-evacuation and range-safety flights with contractors.

The JHC is whittling the U.K.'s tri-service fleet down to four main front-line types: the CH-47 Chinook, AW101 Merlin, AW159 Wildcat and Apache attack helicopter. Rotorcraft that could fit the surrogate-training role include the AgustaWestland AW169, Eurocopter EC145 and Bell 412.