Eurocopter has dropped out of Canada's Maritime Helicopter Programme (MHP), leaving three bidders for the estimated C$2.9 billion ($1.8 billion), 28-machine contract to replace ageing Sikorsky CH-124A Sea Kings.

The company says its Cougar Mk2 can no longer meet specifications: "Since 1999, the weight of equipment on the vehicle and mission systems has increased by over 2t. The maximum take-off weight has grown such that the Cougar could not meet the standards." Eurocopter adds that even the upgraded EC725 will not meet the requirement. Instead, the company  says it will focus on the NH90, offered by NH Industries, in which it has a 62.5% stake. Other bidders are EH Industries with the Cormorant, and Sikorsky with the S-92.

The MHP has been mired in controversy since the government cancelled in 1993 a 50-machine, $5.8 billion EH Industries order signed by a previous administration, claiming it was too expensive.

Canada had to pay a C$500 million ($317 million) cancellation fee. MHP has also split in two - for the airframe and mission system - which critics say will make the winning bid more expensive and the process more complicated.

EH Industries and Sikorsky have criticised the process. EH Industries says the procurement is rigged against the EH101 Cormorant to prevent "political embarrassment", with Sikorsky earlier complaining its S-92 would not have the required certification before a deal is signed.

A request for proposals for the airframe has been delayed several times with the release date now set for July, around eight months late.

AgustaWestland and Sikorsky have submitted bids to the Japanese government for up to 14 MCH-X helicopters. An initial contract is expected to cover four aircraft - two to replace SikorskyMH-53 minesweepers and three to replace Sikorsky S-61 Sea Kings as Antarctic support aircraft. Another nine are likely to be bought for minesweeping over the next five years. AgustaWestland has teamed up with Kawasaki Heavy Industries to offer the EH101, and Sikorsky has joined with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in a S-92 bid.

Source: Flight International