Airbus Helicopters has begun conducting demonstration flights for potential customers of the H175M, including Saudi Arabia, as it eyes a market for the super-medium-twin beyond the UK.
Although the airframer sees the UK, through its New Medium Helicopter (NMH) acquisition, as the likely launch customer of the platform, it continues to pitch the rotorcraft elsewhere.
Last week, demonstration flights were carried out in Saudi Arabia – a country that has already expressed interest in acquiring the 7.8t helicopter. Similar activities will later be conducted with other undisclosed nations, says Olivier Michalon, executive vice-president global business at the manufacturer.
He says the “quite successful” Saudi Arabian sorties, which took place in the kingdom’s mountainous south, served a secondary purpose: helping to demonstrate the H175M’s performance in hot and high conditions.
“It is also part of the maturity process; we could have done it somewhere else but we wanted some extreme conditions,” he said at the DSEI show in London on 12 September.
If it wins the NMH contest Airbus Helicopters has promised to build H175Ms for the UK and export at a new facility in Broughton, North Wales.
The airframer has previously cited a market for around 500 export examples and Michalon views the ongoing demonstration campaigns as a confirmation of broad interest in the helicopter.
Delivery of Broughton-built helicopters for export would take place in parallel with those for the UK, albeit as lead customer its timetable would take priority, he says, adding: “The sooner the H175M is selected the sooner we can export from Broughton.”
In June, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with Airbus Helicopters that could see a joint local facility established to work on the type.
There is little precise detail on what is covered by the pact, but the airframer has previously indicated that it would be focused on customisation and completion activities rather than final assembly.
Michalon points out that while the quantities touted by Saudi Arabia are large “there is not yet a contract” and the eventual requirement is “not fully clear”.
And he insists that if the H175M is selected by the UK, helicopters for the kingdom would be built in Broughton: “We don’t have any formal commitment on building the M [variant] anywhere else.”
Meanwhile, he is hopeful that by end-2024 Airbus Helicopters will have concluded its first export sale for the smaller H160M.
Currently in development for France, deliveries of the first of an eventual 169 units are due to start in 2027.
Potential shipments to export customers could also take place in that timeframe, he says.
An initial trio of civil-registered H160s are already being operated by the French navy for search and rescue tasks, and the service entry is being “scrutinised” by potential buyers, Michalon says.
France is acquiring H160Ms for all three services to replace five legacy types and he sees other countries keen to replicate that model.
Overall, the market for military helicopters is “much more buoyant than it has ever been in recent years”, spurred by the war in the Ukraine and broader security fears.
While the global instability has yet to translate into firm orders, Michalon says “right now we are conducting a lot of different projects, which are at different levels of maturity”.
Other key programmes for the airframer are the H145M light-twin, H225 heavy-twin, and even the NH Industries NH90 is being analysed by potential new customers, he adds.