NH Industries aims for new NH90 orders in 2013

Marseille
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NH Industries (NHI) remains confident that it will secure another order this year for its NH90 helicopter, even as it battles customer concerns over programme delays and the possibility of cancellations.

Dominique Maudet, executive vice-president of global business and services at Eurocopter, the majority shareholder in the consortium, claims NHI is likely to win at least one commitment for the type in 2013.

Although declining to specify which nation will purchase the rotorcraft, Norway is a prime candidate. NHI has pitched the NFH naval variant for the country's ongoing all weather search and rescue helicopter contest. Oslo aims to acquire 16 helicopters configured for a search and rescue role, with options for a further six, with the selected type to be operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

Bids closed on 18 December and a decision is due to be made later this year.

Norway is already a customer for the navalised NH90, with a total of 14 on order, and although it has frequently expressed its dissatisfaction with the late delivery of its helicopters, a further purchase of the type remains on the cards.

NHI has so far sold 529 NH90s, and Maudet believes the orderbook could be increased to as many as 800. "We were talking about 1,000 at one point in time, but looking at the market and the budget situation I'd say we will not get to that level, but 200-300 more is reasonable," he says.

The consortium, which also includes AgustaWestland and Fokker, will raise production this year to between 50 and 60 units, up from around 40 in 2012. At the increased rate, it will have up to seven years' worth of production left, says Maudet.

Meanwhile, discussions continue with Portugal over the potential cancellation of its purchase of 10 of the tactical transport variant for its army.

If the acquisition is cancelled - and all indications are that Portugal has neither the finances nor the desire to complete the order - then it will be a "disappointment and a shame", says Maudet, but "it is [only] 10 helicopters".

Although any cancellation would have a knock-on effect on the price paid by the other NATO Helicopter Management Agency group customers, Maudet says: "It is 10 helicopters out of 345 and it should be manageable. It is not a catastrophe, although, of course, I would have preferred 10 more."

Spain, too, is struggling with its finances and has reduced its commitment for the type from 45 to 38.

A date for Madrid's initial delivery is yet to be scheduled, although the first example produced at Eurocopter's Spanish factory at Albacete made its maiden flight shortly before the end of 2012.