Leonardo Helicopters’ bid to secure the long-term future of its Yeovil plant by winning the UK’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement has hit early turbulence with the abrupt departure of its UK managing director Nick Whitney.
Whitney – whose time with the company dates back to its Westland days – left the business suddenly on 19 May, barely 24h after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) formally launched the NMH contest.
No details surrounding his exit have been disclosed, although company insiders say it came out of the blue.
Save to confirm Whitney’s departure, Leonardo Helicopters declines to comment on the reasons behind the move. It is unclear who is running the operation in Whitney’s absence.
The apparent vacuum at the top of the company could not come at a worse time: prospective bidders for the £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) NMH contract have until 20 June to submit a Dynamic Pre-Qualification Questionnaire to the MoD. Invitations to tender will then be issued by 30 September.
London is seeking up to 44 rotorcraft through the NMH procurement to replace the Royal Air Force’s 23 Puma HC2 transports and three other smaller fleets of medium-weight helicopters.
Leonardo Helicopters is pitching its 8.5t AW149 for the requirement, which it is promising to build in Yeovil. It will also assemble export examples at the UK facility. At present the AW149 is built at the manufacturer’s factory in Vergiate, Italy.
While the Yeovil plant is not under immediate threat if Leonardo Helicopters does not win the NMH competition, the fact remains that new work would silence questions around its long-term future.
Speaking at the DSEI show in October last year, Whitney acknowledged that a failure to secure work through NMH could make the wider Leonardo group reconsider its investment in the UK.
“My concern would be if our own MoD doesn’t show confidence in the rotary-wing provider which is already established in the UK that does lead to questions,” he said.
Other declared contenders for the NMH deal include the Airbus Helicopters H175M, Sikorsky S-70M Black Hawk and AceHawk Aerospace ML-70 – a pre-owned Black Hawk extensively updgraded with new dynamic components and a Garmin G5000 glass cockpit.