ILA: Sea Lion to avoid past NH90 pitfalls, says Faury

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The German navy’s planned Sea Lion version of the NH Industries NH90 will not incur the same level of development risk as earlier variants of the rotorcraft, the chief executive of Airbus Helicopters says.

Germany wants 18 of the aircraft to replace its fleet of aged Westland Lynx, but with multiple national variants of the NH90 already in service, concerns had been raised that the Sea Lion would add yet another level of complexity.

According to Guillaume Faury, however, the Sea Lion will be “very similar to other NH90s”, although there will be some customer-specific equipment, such as the communications fit.

Asked if that meant it would not be as complex as the NH90s delivered to Norway or Sweden, he said: “It’s fair to say the level of development and risk in Sea Lion is much lower than the first [examples]. It will benefit from the lessons learned from those that are already being operated.”

The NH90 has been a sales success, with 195 so far been delivered, and a backlog of around 300 remaining. Flight hours are now starting to ramp up sharply, says Faury, and Airbus Helicopters is receiving “interesting” feedback from customers, who regard it as an “outstanding product”.

Faury and his colleague Vincent Dubrule, president of NH Industries, were questioned about the rather less complimentary comments from the Royal Netherlands Navy regarding corrosion on an NH90 deployed off East Africa on anti-piracy patrols.

“It’s a new product,” says Debrule, “and probably we had not specified clearly enough what was to be done to prepare the helicopter before going in to operations.”

The corrosion was not a safety issue, but a task force has been set up to study the problem. Short-term solutions have been proposed and, if necessary, the affected parts will be redesigned. “Of course, we’re not proud of it, but it’s something we can manage,” he says.

Talking more generally about the multinational fleet now undertaking operations, Dubrule says: “We now need to focus on in-service support, which is okay but needs improvement.” Areas being looked at include ways to reduce the scheduled maintenance plan, while continuing to solve teething problems.