Competition to fulfil the country's rotorcraft requirement may be reopened in June

Manufacturers expect Norway to decide in June whether to reopen a competition for search-and-rescue (SAR)helicopters.

Norway, along with Finland and Sweden, selected the NH Industries NH90 in a joint deal in September 2001, with Oslo ordering 14 anti-submarine warfare machines and taking 10 options.

Industry sources say the Norwegian ministry of justice and police is running the programme, partly because SAR has a civil element. One industry official says the ministry "is questioning the options" and the NH90's suitability as an SAR machine.

The ministry issued a request for information (RFI) earlier this year on the AgustaWestland EH101, NH90 and Sikorsky S-92, and has followed with a series of questionnaires. A demonstration was held at Oslo's Gardermoen airport earlier this year, but only AgustaWestland demonstrated a real aircraft, a Canadian CH-149 Cormorant.

The justice ministry has created a "helicopter forum" comprising 18 specialists described by one source as "customers of the SAR service". The group includes Norway's rescue co-ordination centre and operators such as CHC, the fishing industry, and representatives from the offshore oil industry, including Statoil. The forum "shaped the RFI and the subsequent questions", says one industry official.

The forum has been tasked with presenting its findings before the parliamentary recess in June, with industry responding to the last batch of questions in May, says a source. The forum is then expected to disband with some members likely to join a new board considering the helicopter purchase.

Industry officials expect all three competitors to be retained for the next stage of the competition. The NH90 options expire at the end of 2004, and could still be converted to firm orders, but some are questioning its size as an SAR machine. Norway now operates Westland Sea Kings in the SAR role, as does Denmark, which, despite also being a participant in the Nordic Standard Helicopter Programme, selected the larger EH101.

Norway is expected to retain the requirement for 10 aircraft for service entry in late 2006/early 2007. Industry officials say Norway is seeking a very-long-range helicopter.

Source: Flight International