From 2014 Eurocopter will carry out final assembly of its bestselling AS350 Ecureuil light single-engined helicopter at a USA-based facility, as it looks to offset the impact of reduced production of the UH-72A Lakota for the US Army.
The Lakota has fallen victim to reduced US defence spending, resulting in lower than expected orders. But rather than cut staff at its Columbus, Mississippi plant, it will instead become the second-largest assembly line for the AS350 outside France.
Justifying the move, which will face strong opposition from French trade unions, Dominique Maudet, Eurocopter executive vice-president business and global services, points out that the USA is the largest market for the Ecureuil family.
“This will get us closer to the US market and strengthen our position there. It also makes the Ecureuil more US built,” she says. “Nobody else in the world buys as many Ecureuils as the US.”
Production will be 40 helicopters during 2014, rising to 50 in 2015 and 60 in 2016.
The basic airframe and major components will continue to be made in France and shipped to the US for final assembly. Around 50% of the work on the helicopter will be carried out in Columbus, Eurocopter says.
The airframer sees the move as fulfilling three key functions: retaining a skilled workforce, demonstrating its continued commitment to the region and reducing its exposure to currency fluctuations.
Added to this is the potential to bid on governmental contracts that require a certain level of US industrial contribution.
Helicopters produced at the facility will initially be destined for the USA and Canada, but could also eventually be produced for the Mexican market.