Airbus Helicopters hopes to use its presence at Farnborough to advance its bid to replace the UK armed forces' fleet of 34 AS350 B3 Squirrel HT1 training helicopters.

Presently operated by Cobham-owned FB Heliservices on behalf of the Defence Helicopter Flying School, the new aircraft are likely to be required from around 2018, says the Ministry of Defence.

“A competition will be launched shortly to gradually upgrade our existing fleet of Squirrel HT1 training helicopters. Training will begin on the upgraded aircraft in 2018.”

Dominique Maudet, executive vice-president global business and services at Airbus Helicopters, says the requirement for 30-40 aircraft will be “one of the most important deals of the year and maybe the coming years.”

The refleeting appears to coincide with the transfer of rotary-wing training provision to the Ascent consortium under the UK’s Military Flying Training System programme when the current deal with FB Heliservices expires.

Maudet says it plans to offer a mixture of EC130 and EC135 single- and twin-engined models to all the potential service providers bidding for the work with Ascent, including Cobham, Serco and Elbit. It will additionally bid as prime contractor in its own right through its Airbus Helicopters UK subsidiary.

"We will talk to all partners and customers and the final user the Ministry of Defence."

It is likely to face completion from AgustaWestland and potentially Bell Helicopter for the requirement.

Australia ran a similar contest earlier this year which was eventually won by Boeing offering EC135s. "If for once the UK would follow the example of one of the commonwealth that would be great,” says Maudet.

Meanwhile, the airframer is trying to land several big defence orders this year.

The most advanced of these is Qatar which has indicated its intention to order a total of 22 NH industries NH90s - 10 of the NFH naval variant and 12 troop transport TTHs.

Fellow Gulf nation Kuwait additionally has a requirement for 24 heavy helicopters, for which Airbus Helicopters will offer the EC725 Caracal. It likely faces competition from the Sikorsky S-70I, the international variant of the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Maudet describes the contest as "a bit less advanced" than that in Qatar, with a RFP due shortly and a decision likely in 2015.

However, the big contest this year comes in Poland. Warsaw in June issued an RFP for a tri-service order of 70 multi-role rotorcraft.

Airbus Helicopters is offering the EC725, while Sikorsky will pitch the S-70 produced by its Polish subsidiary PZL Mielec and AgustaWestland a locally assembled version of its AW149.

Contestants have until 30 September to respond ahead of a likely decision by year-end.

Additionally, the Eastern European nation has just launched the first stage of procurement for attack helicopters to replace its fleet of 29 Mil Mi-24D/Vs.

Source: Flight Daily News