Price negotiations between India and Eurocopter are continuing over the country's 197-aircraft army light utility helicopter requirement, even though a 30 September deadline for the validity of the bid has passed.

Several issues are still being ironed out, but an agreement on the $550 million deal could be reached before year-end, say sources close to Eurocopter. Sticking points could be related to New Delhi's 30% offset requirement and the supply of spare parts, say industry sources.

Discussions with the EADS subsidiary for the AS550 Fennec began around August after New Delhi disqualified the Bell 407 from the bid. In March, both companies were asked to extend their bids until 30 September, but Bell was told in May that it was disqualified in 2005 on technical grounds, even though nothing was brought up during talks with the government in the intervening two years.

New Delhi was ready to begin price negotiations with Eurocopter in mid-2007, but these were delayed as the US government and Bell appealed against India's decision and asked for a re-tender. India, however, appears to be sticking to its selection of the AS550.

"Bell definitely appears to be out of the competition. There has been no contact since it received a two-sentence letter saying that it did not meet the requirements. Bell asked for a clarification, but it has not received one," says a source close the US manufacturer.

India's army needs the helicopters to replace its 1970s-vintage Hindustan Aeronautics Chetak and Cheetah helicopters. The successful bidder will provide 60 helicopters in a flyaway condition, while the remaining 137 will be licence-produced by HAL.

However, industry sources say the defence ministry could ask the Indian air force to consider the AS550 to replace its Chetak and Cheetah fleets.

India is also expected to invite bids for heavylift helicopters by mid-2008. Boeing's CH-47 Chinook is likely to be the only contender for the estimated $600 million, 12-aircraft requirement.

Source: Flight International