An appellate judge has cleared the US Army to buy a new batch of UH-72As from Airbus, ending a three-year-long battle launched by Leonardo over a decision to award the contract without a competition.

The decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on 23 January throws a lifeline to Airbus’s final assembly plant for the UH-72A helicopter in Colombus, Mississippi.

The plant is scheduled to deliver the last of 423 UH-72As ordered since 2006 on 28 February, Airbus says.

In 2015, the army announced a plan to order 16 more UH-72As without soliciting bids from competitors. Leonardo, which builds the rival A109, filed a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims, which determined that the army acted “capriciously” in deciding to award the contract on a sole-source basis.

But the appellate tribunal overturned the lower court’s decision, saying the army adequately justified its reasons for ordering the 16 additional aircraft from Airbus without seeking competitive bids.

The decision comes three weeks after the Army published a new “sources sought” document outlining plans to buy up to 35 UH-72As from Airbus without a competition.

The Army uses the twin-engined UH-72A, a civil H-145 in military colours, as a peacetime utility and search and rescue helicopter. The UH-72A also has been acquired to replace the fleet of Bell TH-67 trainers for instructing new army pilots.