South Korea is under political pressure from Europe to delay or reverse an expected purchase of three Sikorsky S-92 VIP helicopters.

Industry sources say the air force has rated the S-92 over the AgustaWestland EH101 and will brief its recommendation to the ministry of national defence this week. The South Korean contest is a key battle ahead of a selection by the USA of a new presidential helicopter - a competition that pitches versions of the same two helicopters against each other.

South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun is expected to receive a briefing from the ministry next week and make a final decision on the VH-X programme.

AgustaWestland has not given up on the competition and members of the consortium are trying to persuade the government to reverse the air force recommendation or delay a decision until 2005. South Korea completed contract negotiations with both manufacturers early last month, but only the Sikorsky bid meets the programme's $105 million budget. Both aircraft were evaluated in August.

European aerospace companies are keen to break US manufacturers' domination of the South Korean market and have been lobbying Seoul to better balance its procurements. Air force sources say a final decision has not been made, but they say it would be difficult to reverse the air force's recommendation because an EH101 purchase would require 10-20% more funds.


Source: Flight International