Sikorsky and the Canadian government have again offered widely differing views of the status of the troubled CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter programme.

Speaking on a third-quarter earnings call, Greg Hayes, chief financial officer at Sikorsky parent United Technologies, said he was confident an additional eight aircraft would be handed over to the Royal Canadian Air Force by the end of the year. This is in addition to four aircraft, built to an interim standard, that have already been delivered to the service's 12 Wing at Shearwater air base near Halifax.

"[The] good news is the aircraft are up in Shearwater. They are flying. We’re getting traction with the customer. I think everybody recognises they want to find [a] solution here, both at the Sikorsky and at the Canadian government level," says Hayes.

However, although preliminary flight training for pilots is under way at Shearwater, Ottawa has yet to officially accept the helicopters. "Canada contracted with Sikorsky, and the company has yet to deliver a contractually compliant helicopter to Canada," says the country's Public Works Goods & Services Canada (PWGSC) procurement body. "Training does not constitute acceptance of an interim helicopter."

Hayes also hints that contract negotiations with Canada could be imminent. “I’m going to be very cautious here. That’s atypical with me. I would say that we’re making progress, although it’s slow. And I think again, we haven’t really started formal contract negotiations," says Hayes.

But neither side would be drawn on the content of any discussions, or the timeframe for their conclusion.

Meanwhile, external consultants hired by PWGSC continue to evaluate Sikorsky's ability to the complete the deal. On 3 October they held discussions with rival airframers to evaluate alternative proposals. AgustaWestland – which could offer either the AW101 or AW159 Lynx Wildcat – and Eurocopter on behalf of the NH Industries consortium, which would offer the NFH variant of its NH90.

PWGSC has not given a timeline for completion of the study, saying: "The government will take the time it needs to complete its data gathering engagement with those companies."

Government sources insist that the talks with rival manufacturers offer a genuine possibility of a contract switch, and are more than simply a means of sending a message to the US-based airframer.

Sikorsky remains resolute, however, describing progress on the project as "strong and steady". It says: "In addition to the four Cyclone aircraft at Shearwater, five more are housed at a secure facility in Plattsburgh, [New York], awaiting movement to Canada.

"Another two aircraft are currently in flight test, and the remaining helicopters comprising the 28-aircraft fleet are all progressing well on the assembly line."

Sikorsky in 2004 won a $1.8 billion deal to supply 28 CH-148s to the RCAF. Deliveries of the final versions of the Cyclone were due to start in June 2012.

Ottawa has already levied the maximum fine of $88.6 million on Sikorsky, which it intends to offset against payments due under a support contract for sustainment of the helicopters.