Bidders manoeuvre for Polish transport helicopter deal

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NH Industries' NH90 and Sikorsky's S-70I International Black Hawk remain the front runners for a Polish land forces requirement for a new fleet of transport helicopters, although the latter's S-92 could yet come into contention.

Warsaw is still waiting to launch a tender for the stalled programme, the outcome of which could be influenced by the nation's search for a strategic investor in domestic manufacturer PZL Swidnik. Bidders include the Czech Republic's Aero Vodochody, Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland, which is responsible for marketing the NH90 (German army example pictured below) in the country, and Chinese company AVIC II which is preparing to start licence production of the Polish firm's W-3 Sokol.

 
© Eurocopter

Industry sources say AgustaWestland is the favoured partner, due to its ability to transfer modern technologies and establish long-term co-operation with PZL Swidnik, and a decision is expected before year-end.

Sikorsky also wants to be a key player in Poland's helicopter industry, and has already made a significant investment in PZL Mielec's facilities. Production of an initial two UH-60M Black Hawk cabins will be completed at the site this year, and up to 100 will be manufactured during 2009.

PZL Mielec is also preparing to establish an assembly line and flight test facility for the International Black Hawk (pictured below). "Manufacturing of the first elements of the S-70I prototype will start in April 2009," says chief executive Janusz Zakrecki, who expects the aircraft to make its first flight in April/May 2010. Zakrecki says series production will start with eight aircraft in 2011 and ramp up to 20 a year in 2014.

 
© Sikorsky

Some parts for the S-70I, UH-60 and S-92 will also be produced in Poland, and Bruce McKinney, Sikorsky's vice-president Europe, says the company "is also looking for small Polish companies capable of producing some parts and providing completion of the S-70I interior".

Speaking during the 8-11 September International Defence Industry Exhibition (MSPO) in Kielce, McKinney added: "Not only the S-70I will be offered for the Polish land forces as a tactical transport helicopter [TTH]. If the S-92 will be able to meet with Polish requirements for ASW [anti-submarine warfare] or TTH then we will offer the helicopter in these versions."

Sikorsky also hopes to contest an emerging Polish tender for VIP helicopters, and displayed an S-92 prototype at the MSPO show. The company is likely to face competition from AgustaWestland's AW139 for the deal.

Additional reporting by Grzegorz Sobczak