The army's inspection panel is expected to approve the delivery of a controversial airship even though it has failed its standard flight test, an army source says.
The airship inspection committee is expected to eventually approve the 350 million baht airship's delivery, the source said, despite the fact it cannot fly high enough to avoid ground fire.
The third flight test of the US-made Aero 40D airship showed it had a maximum ceiling of 3,100 feet.
This was within the range of an M16 rifle fired from the ground, the source said.
The airship was supposed to be able to fly above 3,280 feet, or 1km above the ground, which would make it safe from ground rifle attack.
The airship is intended for aerial patrols over the lower South.
The latest flight test was carried out yesterday at the Bo Thong airstrip at the 15th Infantry Regiment in Pattani's Nong Chik district, where it has been kept during the inspection.
"The committee will in the end have to accept the airship delivery," the source said.
The airship deal was expected to be sealed before army chief Anupong Paojinda retires at the end of September.
He has defended the purchase despite criticism over its cost, and whether the airship will be of any use.
The inspection committee is made up of three lieutenant colonels from the Department of Army Transportation.
There would, however, be more tests before the committee announces its final decision on the craft's delivery, the source said. The tests will be aimed at proving if the cameras mounted on three helicopters supporting the airship would work both night and day.
Tests will also be carried out to see if the cameras can capture pictures at different angles and whether broadcasting signals to the airship and a number of ground control centres can be synchronised in real time.
The airship also needs costly helium refills, the source said.
The cost of a helium refill ranges from 170,000 baht to 2.5 million baht.
The cabinet in March last year gave the army its approval in principle to buy the airship for about 350 million baht.
The craft was to have been delivered last August.
The handover has been delayed repeatedly because of problems in fulfilling the purchase contract on the part of the supplier.