Paul Lewis/WASHINGTON DC Julian Moxon/PARIS

Portugal, under pressure from Eurocopter, has delayed selecting a new search-and-rescue/maritime patrol helicopter until it has evaluated the improved AS532 Cougar Mk2Plus. Lisbon is being simultaneously enticed by a proposal to join the NH Industries NH90 programme. Eurocopter has won a reprieve for the Cougar in the face of a Portuguese air force move to drop the helicopter from the competition. The competing EH Industries EH101 and Sikorsky S-92 have already completed reference mission demonstrations, but the proposed five-blade AS532 Mk2Plus will not be ready to fly until September. The air force plans to order between eight and 12 SAR helicopters and an additional two machines for fishery protection. It has set demanding SAR requirements, including the capability to fly out to a range of 740km (400nm), hover out of ground effect for 30min and rescue survivors and return 740km. The existing four-blade Cougar is understood to fall short of this. "The Portuguese have been evaluating the three aircraft and our understanding is that the Cougar did not complete the reference mission and was deselected and that they are continuing to evaluate the S-92 and EH101," says EHI partner GKN Westland. Meanwhile, the Eurocopter-led NHI consortium has opened the door to Portuguese participation in the NH90 programme. NHI claims Portugal "wants to join the launch group so that it can profit from being a member of a very large European programme." NHI's four partner nations, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, have invested $1.54 billion in the development of a tactical transport and naval version of the NH90 and Portugal "would have to pay an entry fee," says the consortium. Portugal in return could take a small amount of manufacturing, repair and overhaul work.

Source: Flight International