Making its HAI Heli-Expo debut this year is the Airbus Helicopters H215 which has landed in Louisville ahead of a month-long US demo tour.

Originally the 8.6t AS322 C1e/L1e, the helicopter was re-designated and relaunched in November 2015, along with the announcement that from 2017 it will be produced at a new factory in Brasov, Romania.

With its simplified options list and shorter lead time, as well as lower cost, the manufacturer is pitching the H215 at the utility and aerial work markets as a replacement for the ubiquitous Mil Mi-8/17 and Sikorsky S-61.

“With the exercises that we have done in 2015 we have everything it takes to grasp this market which, to be honest, was out of reach before for Airbus Helicopters,” says head of business development Fabrice Arfi.

However, another key market is being addressed on its US demo tour as, during stops in Los Angeles and Sacramento, it will be put through its paces by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDFFP) as an aerial firefighting asset.

“We are already engaged in an important campaign in the USA,” says Arfi, with the winner due to be announced shortly after HAI.

CDFFP - which Arfi describes as “the reference” for fire-fighting operations - is currently running a tender for the acquisition of 15 helicopters, with deliveries to commence 360 days after the contract award.

In addition, the H215 is being pitched to the US military with a visit to the army’s contracting command in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as meetings with Pentagon officials in Washington DC.

Arfi believes the H215 can serve as a “big brother” to the service’s existing fleet of UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters.

“It is obvious the H215 can be a medium or super-medium utility helicopter. We believe this is a need the Americans have.”

It is being proposed as a solution for a requirement the army has to procure non-standard rotary-wing platforms for deployment to locations like Afghanistan where “what is more important to the US military is that they should use an aircraft that does not look like a US aircraft.”

In addition, it has already been offered to the US Air Force as a solution for its proposed replacement of aged Bell Helicopter UH-1N Twin Hueys.

Finland’s Border Guard recently took delivery of its first of two new H215s (OH-HVP), with a second to follow in April. In addition, its current fleet of three AS332 C1s will be raised to the new standard.

Meanwhile, construction of the new Brasov facility is underway and should be completed by the end of this year with production due to begin shortly after. First delivery a Romanian-built H215 will follow in mid-2017.

Airbus Helicopters plans to deliver 15 helicopters from the site in 2018, although as Arfi points out “we may still have a few deliveries out of France just because the military variant will remain in France, probably until 2020, or maybe a little beyond.”

That is due to the additional customisation the M-variants usually require, he says, so “it is more convenient to be closer to the design office”. In addition, some €5 million of the €50 million funding for the new Brasov factory is being provided by the European Union, which restricts output to civil helicopters for a three-year period.

Design office functions will eventually be created in Romania “but it will take a long time to ramp up”, says Arfi.