Helibras starts work on EC725 production facility

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Brazil has confirmed Chile, Colombia, Portugal and South Africa as prospective partner nations in Embraer's KC-390 tactical transport programme to replace the country's Lockheed Martin C-130E/H and KC-130H fleet.

Speaking at an event in Itajubá, Minas Gerais to mark the construction by Eurocopter's Brazilian affiliate Helibras of facilities to produce EC225 and EC725 helicopters, air force chief Lt Brig Juniti Saito indicated that France is also keen to participate - contingent upon the ongoing F-X2 fighter selection favouring Dassault's Rafale.

South Africa's Denel Saab Aerostructures, Portugal's OGMA and Chilean Enaer are seen as key KC-390 partners, while Colombia's participation is aimed at boosting that country's fledgling aerospace industry. Maj Brig Aprigio E M Azevedo, head of air force finances, says partner selection should be concluded by the end of this year.

The Brazilian air force is due to receive 23 KC-390s which, along with between 12 and 20 EADS Casa C-295s, will make up its entire tactical transport fleet.

The Helibras expansion supports Brazil's 2008 selection of the EC725 Super Cougar as prime heavylift helicopter for all three armed forces. Under a $2.89 billion order, 50 Super Cougars will be delivered between the final quarter of 2010 and 2017 to the ministry of defence, with two VIP-configured airframes set for presidential transport duties, while the Brazilian air force, army and navy will each receive 16 units. It is understood that army and navy EC725s will be delivered in standard troop transport configuration, whereas air force airframes will be in a configuration similar to the French EC725 Caracal for combat-SAR work.

The first Itajubá-built aircraft should be delivered in 2013, with a target of 50% local content.

Helibras delivered 31 helicopters last year and took orders for 63; sales of $198 million were up 19% year-on-year.

Helibras makes some components for and assembles AS350/355 Ecureuils, EC120 Colibris, EC155 Dauphins and EC135s. The EC725/EC225 programme also targets the growing offshore helicopter market.