The US Army on 4 January took the first step in the process to award a contract to Airbus for up to 35 more UH-72 Lakota helicopters.

A “sources sought” notice published by the Army’s utility helicopter project management office checks off a requirement to investigate whether there are competitive options.

The notice notes that only Airbus owns the technical data on the UH-72, which means any potential competitor would have to acquire the data from the OEM to build the twin-engined aircraft.

Airbus has delivered more than 400 UH-72s to the army since 2006. The re-designated H145 aircraft lack a military airworthiness certificate by design, rendering the fleet limited to peacetime support roles. In 2014, the army also selected the UH-72A to replace the Bell Helicopter TH-67 as a primary trainer.

The army’s approved budget in Fiscal 2017 contains funds to buy 23 UH-72As, so up to another 12 could be purchased later.

Airbus assembles the UH-72 from a factory in Columbus, Mississippi, although major components are built in Europe.

The new order from the army is necessary to keep the facility open.

Workers at the factory “ended 2017 wondering if the New Year would bring them unemployment”, Airbus says. “A new contract for them would mean they can continue to build on their unbroken record of on-time, on-cost deliveries to the Army.”