The UK is to extend the use of its tri-service Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) arrangement with FB Heliservices until at least 2016, after approving a contract extension worth £193 million ($304 million).
The Bristow Helicopters/Cobham Aviation Services joint venture announced the extension on 6 March. The deal will continue the DHFS system introduced in 1997. This delivers air crew training services at Royal Air Force base Shawbury in Shropshire, RAF Valley on Anglesey, and at the Army Air Corps' Middle Wallop school in Hampshire.
"Helicopter flying training will continue to be delivered utilising the existing 34 [Eurocopter] AS350BB Squirrel and 11 [Bell 412EP] Griffin helicopters," says Cobham Aviation Services. The aircraft will be "upgraded to include new technology and to increase training capability," it adds.
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The DHFS extension deal, which also contains options to extend the agreement by a further two years, has been placed following work conducted under the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) programme.
Ascent, the Ministry of Defence's industry partner for MFTS, approached potential bidders late last year for a next-generation helicopter training system.
Formed of Lockheed Martin and Babcock, Ascent received proposals from incumbent supplier FB Heliservices, as well as from AgustaWestland and a consortium involving Eurocopter and CAE.
Further details about the proposed upgrades for the existing fleet of helicopters have not been disclosed, but could potentially include the introduction of glass cockpit avionics equipment.
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The Defence Helicopter Flying School's Bell 412EP Griffins could potentially receive cockpit enhancements
This would enable the aircraft to prepare new pilots more effectively for types including the RAF's upgraded and new-build Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC4/6 transports, and the British Army and Royal Navy's AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat.