Doubts remain over controversial utility helicopter programme which AgustaWestland and Bell are also contesting

Eurocopter has emerged as favourite for selection as preferred foreign partner to Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for South Korea’s new utility helicopter programme, but the country’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) could be poised to select AgustaWestland instead if the controversial project moves forward this year.

KAI has been evaluating bids from AgustaWestland, Bell and Eurocopter since late July and is due to make its recommendation to the defence ministry this month. The MND will select a winner of the Korean Helicopter Programme (KHP) in early October, but industry sources say it is reluctant to advance the $8.6 billion programme because all three bids are non-compliant with its requirement to develop indigenously a new utility helicopter in the 6,800kg (15,000lb) class for export delivery from 2011.

Bell proposes licence-producing a variant of its UH-1Y, while AgustaWestland is offering co-development of its proposed A149 derivative of the Bell/Agusta AB139. Sources say Eurocopter is offering to give KAI technology from its programmes to develop a new helicopter, but that it cannot guarantee 2011 deliveries and Seoul also needs to revise and relaunch its competition to meet existing acquisition regulations.

However, KAI is urging the government to push forward and award a contract for the 245-aircraft programme by year-end – perhaps by finding a loophole in the regulations – to secure its place in the defence budget. Another setback to the delayed programme could lead to outright termination, the company warns.

KAI will not comment on its current negotiations, but industry sources say Eurocopter with parent company EADS has been pushing its bid aggressively in recent weeks, promising KAI technology and financial support. EADS is also offering significant workshare on the Airbus A350 and help in selling the KAI/Lockheed Martin T-50 advanced trainer.

But sources say the MND is concerned that a Eurocopter/KAI solution will not be delivered in time and will compete on the export market against a similar-sized helicopter that Eurocopter plans to co-develop with China.

Bell plans to begin another round of talks with KAI later this month and will offer an improved package that could give the company workshare in additional Bell aircraft types, but some people within KAI and the MND are thought to favour the A149.

  • The Korea Aerospace Research Institute has shortlisted three engines for the KHP – the General Electric T700, Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 and Rolls-Royce T800. Samsung Techwin will manufacture the powerplant locally.


Source: Flight International