THE CANADIAN Cabinet is expected shortly to approve a C$600 million programme to acquire 15 new search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopters.

Agusta/Westland, Boeing Helicopters, Eurocopter and Sikorsky have indicated their intentions to bid for replacing the Canadian Forces' Boeing CH-113 Labradors between 1998 and 2001.

Alongside the Canadian SAR Helicopter (CSH) programme, the Government is considering the Maritime Helicopter Programme (MHP) for 32 aircraft to replace the Canadian Forces' Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King ship-borne helicopters. The CSH and MHP requirements result from the 1993 cancellation of the programme to replace both the Labradors and Sea Kings with the EH Industries EH101.

If Cabinet approval is given, Canada's Department of National Defence (DND) plans to issue a solicitation of interest in the CSH programme by early September, leading to a request for proposals by early 1996 and contract award by December 1996.

One option being considered is for a commercial entity to acquire the helicopters and lease them to the DND.

Agusta/Westland plans to offer the AW520 Cormorant export derivative of the EH101; Boeing will offer the CH-47D Chinook; Eurocopter the AS.532 Cougar; while Sikorsky is expected to offer a variant of the US Coast Guard's HH-60J Jayhawk SAR helicopter.

The Anglo-Italian consortium says that it has no indication that Canada's cancellation of the EH101 will count against its bid. It refuses to comment on whether it will offer to forgo the still-to-be-agreed compensation for the cancellation if it wins the CSH contract.

Agusta/Westland's Cormorant is based on the Royal Navy's EH101 Merlin, but uses commercial avionics to reduce cost.

Agusta/Westland, Eurocopter and Sikorsky plan to offer variants of their CSH aircraft to meet the MPH requirement, which is not expected to be approved for at least another year, but Boeing says that the Chinook is not suitable for the ship-borne MPH role.

Source: Flight International