NEW DELHI (TIP): Ecuador has unilaterally terminated a contract with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) after four of the seven Dhruv advanced light helicopters bought from the state-run Indian firm were involved in crashes.

Defense minister Fernando Cordero announced the action during a news conference on Wednesday. He said two of the crashes were caused by mechanical failures. The three remaining Dhruv helicopters have been grounded.

The development is a major setback for HAL, which has sought to market the Dhruv as a low-cost alternative to military and utility helicopters from Western nations. Work on the Dhruv began in 1984 and it first flew in 2002 after a troubled development programme.

Four of the seven Dhruv helicopters delivered to Ecuador between 2009 and 2012 have crashed. One was assigned to transport President Rafael Correa, though he was not in the aircraft at the time.

Ecuador earlier complained that HAL had failed to ship some parts for the helicopters, which were bought for a total of $45.2 million.

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HAL, which completed deliveries of the helicopters in 2012, has contested Ecuadorian claims that it failed to ship spares on schedule. A HAL spokesperson told leading defence publication Jane’s that maintaining the aircraft was “exclusively” the responsibility of the Ecuadorian Air Force as the 24-month warranty period for HAL to provide after-sales service support for the seven helicopters had long expired.

Besides Ecuador, the Dhruv is also operated by the security forces of Nepal, Mauritius and the Maldives. The Dhruv has also been offered to Malaysia and Indonesia.

More than 200 Dhruv helicopters are in service with the Indian military. They have been used extensively in relief operations after natural disasters such as the flash floods in Uttarakhand in 2013.

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