Airbus Helicopters says a launch commitment from Bucharest for at least 16 H215Ms will be its signal to begin production of the Super Puma variant at its new factory in Brasov, Romania.

"If we get an order for 16, we will start," says Serge Durand, managing director of Airbus Helicopters Industries, the unit set up by the rotorcraft manufacturer to assemble the multirole type in the eastern European country for domestic and export sales.

The Franco-German company had previously suggested that production of the 9t H215 – in either a civil or military guise – could begin in 2017, but this now seems unlikely. Durand says: "We are waiting for a strong signal from the Romanian government."

The country’s military flies around 60 ageing Puma and Super Puma helicopters, which are up to 40 years old. Other government departments such as the health and interior ministries also operate Pumas of a similar vintage, which require replacement.

Airbus will team on any Romanian order with state-owned IAR, its partner in its 15-year-old Brasov-based maintenance, repair and overhaul joint venture, Airbus Helicopters Romania. In the Communist era, IAR built over 360 Airbus helicopters under licence.

During a late-August visit to Romania, French president Emmanuel Macron signed a deal with his Romanian counterpart that extends from five to 15 years IAR's commitment to be the prime on any future Romanian H215M purchase. This new timescale is important, says Durand, because the country's Pumas and Super Pumas will have to be replaced within 10 to 15 years.

The final assembly line is currently "on hold", with staff preparing tooling and carrying out training. The new factory, which was completed last year, is designed to build up to 15 aircraft a year, and Durand is confident capacity will be reached quickly as a firm commitment from Romania will open the gates for export sales.

"A Romanian order would be a signal to the market," says Durand, who estimates the market for replacements for the Puma and Super Puma and direct competitors such as the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and Mil Mi-17 at 1,000 aircraft.

"To get 20% of that market over 15 years is not so ambitious," he says. "The only question mark is the timing."

IAR has also signed a co-operation agreement to prime with Bell Helicopter, which is pitching the AH-1Z Viper for a Romanian requirement thought to be for 24 attack helicopters. In August, Bucharest submitted a request for information on pricing and availability to the US government.

Source: Flight International