Portuguese Kamov Helicopters Under Risk of Grounding Due to Language Requirement

By Ernesto Franzen

For the last four years, Portuguese operator Heliportugal has been leasing three Kamov 32A11BC heavy helicopters from the Ukraine for use in Portugal during the country’s fire season, a contract valued at 5.5 million euros per year. The KA-32 helicopters have been operated by English-speaking Ukrainian and Moldavian pilots, honoring the contract annually, even while the war in Ukraine continues. 

Portugal’s Proteção Civil (Civilian Protection) agency considers the Kamovs to be so effective for Portuguese firefighting efforts that it has been considering adding two more Kamovs to the contract. However, just two weeks before the start of the Portuguese fire season, Portugal’s ANAC (Autoridade Nacional de Aviação Civil – Civilian Aviation National Authority) has changed the contract requirements to require that the Ukrainian pilots pass a level 4 Portuguese language proficiency test, “for safety reasons”, just weeks out from the contract commencement that is effective on June 1st, 2023. ANAC officials say that the ability to speak Portuguese will result in better coordination between the Kamov aircraft being operated for firefighting and the ground firefighters, creating a safer operation.

Portuguese is a difficult language that can not be learned in the few days before the new rule comes into force, let alone to a level 4 proficiency. Portugal has had a dry winter, and the 2023 fire season is expected to be very busy.

Confronted with this, Portugal’s ANAC has relented, allowing the English-speaking Ukrainian pilots to operate provided there is a second, Portuguese-speaking pilot aboard to handle communications. However, as Heliportugal claims, “this is a high-risk operation that requires technical proficiency, not language proficiency”, and has asked for a complete suspension of the new rule for at least one year.

The Kamovs are the only heavy helicopters being used for firefighting in Portugal, and there is a serious risk that they won’t be available this year due to this new requirement.

AerialFire Staff
AerialFire Staff
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