Cost Increases, Technical Problems, and Lack of User Interest Make Continuation of Helistat Program Questionable

MASAD-83-4: Published: Nov 17, 1982. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 1982.

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GAO reviewed a Forest Service program to develop a lighter-than-air vehicle to demonstrate that aerial logging operations are economical in steep, inaccessible mountainous terrain.

GAO has found that the original net cost of the program has increased about 373 percent. Because the remaining development work has not been clearly defined, the validity of the revised cost estimate has not been assessed. However, this cost could increase further. In addition, the depressed timber market has reduced the anticipated revenue from timber sales during the demonstrations of the project by 54 percent. Problems in designing and building the aircraft have caused delays and raised concerns about the strength of the structure of the vehicle. There has been dissatisfaction with the quality of the contractor's workmanship. Within the last year, the contractor has changed the delivery date five times, providing little confidence in the validity of the current completion date. Potential users of the vehicle, contacted by GAO in a previous review, saw little opportunity for the aircraft's use and rated the concept poor as a timber harvesting method. The successful completion of this project will not result in a fleet of aircraft, it will only demonstrate the concept. Another development program will be necessary to develop a vehicle that can be produced and sold to logging companies. GAO believes that it is unlikely that potential users will fund the cost of this follow-on program. With the present reduced demand for timber, GAO believes that it is questionable that the costly logging of inaccessible timber areas is justified.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to determine whether completion of the Helistat program is justified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to identify the benefits which justify the program's cost.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to establish valid schedule milestones.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to determine the estimated revenue from timber sales.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to determine the cost of completing the development phase and the logging demonstrations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to determine the scope of work required to resolve the technical problems and complete the development phase of the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should tell Congress the current cost, schedule, and technical status of the program, and the basis for concluding that the program should be continued if a decision is made to continue the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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