Portugal signs up for NH90 purchase

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PAUL DERBY

Portugal will sign a contract for 10 NH90 helicopters in the next few days, possibly at Le Bourget, Eurocopter president and chief executive Jean-Francois Bigay revealed yesterday. The purchase is designed to meet the Portuguese Army's need for a troop transport machine.

The decision is a major shot in the arm for the programme, which brings together four European partners - France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Eurocopter is a partner in the NH Industries consortium that is leading development of the tactical transport/naval helicopter.

Bigay said he believed the aircraft was in a strong position in the Nordic Standard Helicopter Programme because Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden were still committed to buying a single type of helicopter.

Asked about the status of the Eurofar tailtrotor programme, he said Europe needed to "make a wise move" and develop a product to compete with US rivals, in the shape of the Bell/Agusta BA609 and Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey.

"Customers need competition," Bigay said, "but as a group we need to find solutions to the critical technologies to give us advantage over the competition. We aren't at that stage yet."

Discussing Eurocopter's strategy, Bigay said he wanted to increase the company's market share, particularly in the military field and to take its share of the civil market above 50%. He released figures showing the company's civil market share standing at 49%.Eurocopter's turnover was up 17% in 2000, he confirmed, rising past the $1.7billion mark for the first time, with 'booked sales' up 57%, mainly thanks to the signing of NH90 contracts.