Tim Ripley/MILAN

Italy is to finalise contracts by the end of the year with AgustaWestland for the next batch of eight EH101 helicopters for the Italian navy.

Talks are underway but company sources say the service has yet to finalise the aircraft mix. "We have indications that the Italian navy is moving towards a larger number of utility versions to move marines ashore," says an AgustaWestland executive. "We don't know the mix of anti-submarine and utility versions, it could be four and four, six and two or three and five."

Italy has strong interest in the EH101 with a developing requirement for two VIP machines to replace Sikorsky S-61s used by the Pope and Italian political leaders. The air force is also seeking 12-16 combat search and rescue machines. "The air force have looked at lighter helicopters than the EH101 and they feel a bigger more powerful helicopter is the way to go for this demanding and dangerous mission," says a company source.

Italy has contracted for 16 EH101s - eight anti submarine/ surface vessel (ASW), four airborne early warning (AEW) and four utility versions. Two ASW machines have been delivered and another example is undergoing acceptance trials. The AEW machines are to be delivered in 2003 and the utility aircraft the following year.

AgustaWestland says 10 of Canada's 15 Cormorants are in assembly or flight test at its Vegiate plant, with the first aircraft due to fly to Canada in June or July.

Studies continue with Kawasaki Heavy Industries to develop an airborne mine countermeasures version to replace the Maritime Self-Defence Force's Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon minesweeping helicopters. "A requirement is likely to be issued in three to four years," says Pasquale de Luca, head of EH101 marketing.

Source: Flight International