The Australian government will run a second round of competition between an Australian Aerospace/ Eurocopter team and Sikorsky for its Air 9000 requirement to rationalise the Australian Defence Force helicopter fleet, effectively delaying a final source selection until the second quarter of 2004. The announcement came in parallel with Department of Defence confirmation that an AgustaWestland bid based on the EH101 has been dropped from consideration.

The Air 9000 project office will receive further guidance on the project from Australian defence minister Robert Hill late this month. "Details of the additional competitive process are being developed," says the DoD. Australian defence analysts say the most likely process is a form of parallel negotiation that also allows limited bid revisions.

Alternative methods, such as a best and final offer process, are discouraged by Australian government procurement guidelines, and any process requiring submission of new bids would result in significant project delays. A source selection had been expected late last year, with a contract award to be in place by March to ensure the availability of additional troop lift helicopters for the Australian Army before 2007.

Meanwhile, the DoD has restructured the army and navy's planned Air 9000 Phase Y rotary wing flying training rationalisation into two separate projects. The army requirement is now designated Air 9000 Phase 7, while the navy's has been renamed the Air 9001 Phase 1 maritime interim rotary- wing training and support system (MIRTASS). Under the latter system, the service's Eurocopter AS350B Squirrels will by early 2005 be replaced with new 5-6t utility helicopters operated under a 10-year lease deal funded through the navy's operations budget.

Consideration is also being given to replacing the navy's Westland Sea King Mk50A helicopters, which are scheduled to receive a second life extension under Air 9000 Phase 6, under the MIRTASS programme.

Source: Flight International