A decision on an "interim" solution to provide rotary-wing training for all three branches of the UK's armed forces is likely to be taken by the end of this year.
During 2012, the UK Ministry of Defence delayed for 10 years the award of a £400 million ($614 million), 20-year contract under its UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) programme, as a money-saving exercise. However, as its current contract with Cobham-owned FB Heliservices, which provides tri-service training at the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS), ends in 2018 at the latest, the government is seeking a temporary provider to step in.
The UK's current DHFS service uses the Bell 412 Griffin HT1 for multi-engined training
Ascent Flight Training, the Lockheed Martin/Babcock joint venture that manages the overall MFTS programme, has proposed modified versions of the bids provided by the two original contestants for the requirement - AgustaWestland and Alphar, a consortium comprising Eurocopter, FB Heliservices and CAE.
Simon Falla, training director at Ascent, says he expects the MoD will choose its preferred option by Christmas.
"You have fairly stark choices when you want something to start in 2018. [The MoD] needs to evaluate whether it wants to do something with its partner or in-house," he says.
Although the duration of the contract could solely cover the 10-year interim period, Falla says it could last even longer if that offers "value for money for the taxpayer".
"They asked us to look again at various aspects of the original solution and we have now got something we can work with and we think they'll like," he says. "Someone has to offer the MoD a solution for getting it into the deep future - it doesn't just want a sticking plaster."
All aspects of the original bids were re-examined, including the balance between synthetic and live training, says Falla, and whether the training helicopters should be single- or twin-engined.
FB Heliservices presently operates Eurocopter AS350 Squirrel HT1 light singles and Bell 412 Griffin HT1 twins for the DHFS.