Eurocopter looks across Atlantic for European heavylift helicopter

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Eurocopter is seeking to pursue transatlantic co-operation to develop a helicopter for a European Defence Agency heavylift programme, chief executive Lutz Bertling has revealed.

Speaking in Paris on 20 January, Bertling said the Future Transport Helicopter (FTH) was "one of the first big programmes" that could be launched by European Defence Agency chief executive Alexander Weis, who was appointed to the EDA in May 2007.

The FTH programme is a joint French-German initiative aimed at developing an intra-theatre transport helicopter for the "2020-plus" timeframe.

"From my point of view - and I'm very much in line with Alexander Weis and the rest of the nations - this will most probably be a transatlantic programme," said Bertling, adding that a co-operative effort could also have relevance to the US Army's Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) programme. "There might be some transatlantic work to be done, trying to come to one solution or one common standard out of which individual European and US solutions can be derived."

He added that Eurocopter was "in contact with the OEMs - not Bell, obviously - the other two", presumably meaning Boeing and Sikorsky. "We are discussing how this might become a joint business opportunity."

Bell Boeing and Lockheed Martin-Karem Aircraft teams have won contracts to develop tiltrotor designs for the JHL programme, which is intended to find a replacement for the US Army's Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopters.

However, it is "not clear" whether a tiltrotor design will be selected. "It doesn't make sense from our point of view to develop a tiltrotor without having a very strong government programme supporting it," Bertling said. "We believe that this will be an extremely small niche."

Bertling also confirmed that Eurocopter will participate in the US Army's reopened armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) contest, offering a development of its EC145-based UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter, 50 of which have now been delivered to the service.

EADS North America will be proposed as prime contractor, with a yet to be selected US partner to help develop an ARH mission package.

The US Department of Defense last October terminated Bell Helicopter's contract to develop a military variant of its civil 407 helicopter. Bertling says a twin-engined design "would be far better suited to [the] requirement". He believes an EC145-based solution would also offer advantages in logistics, while EADS North America would score highly on the "past performance" criterion. Competition is likely to come from AgustaWestland, Bell and Boeing.