The Irish defence ministry expects to complete an assessment by late October of offers from three suppliers for up to eight new military helicopters. The Irish Air Corps initially seeks two twin-engined light training and four twin-engined utility helicopters, with an option on another two of the latter type.

Agusta Westland is offering its A109 and Bell/Agusta Aerospace AB139 to meet the requirement, which is worth around €30-50 million ($40-60 million), Eurocopter is submitting the EC135 and EC145 and Sikorsky its S-76 and S-70 Black Hawk designs.

Irish defence minister Michael Smith expects a contract to be signed before year-end, with first aircraft deliveries expected during 2005. The new helicopters will be used for a variety of duties, with the larger aircraft transporting eight fully equipped troops.

Ireland in 2002 selected Sikorsky's larger S-92 to meet a requirement for three troop transport and search-and-rescue helicopters, prompting a legal challenge from Eurocopter, but later scrapped the procurement after a €40 million cut to its defence budget. The Irish Defence Force says the new procurement is being run along EU guidelines and has no provision for direct offsets.

Source: Flight International