Mi-171 acquisition to go ahead, but avionics upgrade and army utility aircraft buy delayed

Malaysia has agreed to acquire 10 partially assembled Mil Mi-171 search and rescue helicopters for the air force, but has delayed the purchase of 10 Agusta A109sfor an army light utility requirement.

Budget constraints have also forced Malaysia to postpone installing Western avionics in the Mi-171s. As a result the air force will initially operate them with three-man crews.

Industry officials expect the helicopters to eventually be upgraded with a two-man Western cockpit, with Honeywell or Rockwell Collins displays and navigation equipment. Airod, which will oversee local assembly of the Mi-171s, is expected to lead the avionics upgrade.

Airod and Malaysia completed talks in late July to support the Mi-171. A contract should be signed by the end of August. Deliveries from the plant in Ulan-Ude are to be completed by the end of 2004.

Kazan Helicopters offered the Mi-172 with Honeywell avionics and has not abandoned its Malaysian campaign. The Mi-171 and Mi-172 are developments of the Mi-8/17 Hip family.

AgustaWestland and Malaysia were close to completing a contract for 10 A109s in June, with deliveries tentatively scheduled for 2005. But industry sources say deliveries have been pushed back to 2006 as Malaysia does not have funding.

Malaysia faces a budget crunch, having purchased 18 Sukhoi Su-30 fighters this year and reinstated an upgrade programme for the Northrop F-5. Malaysia is also evaluating new airborne early warning aircraft and upgrades for RSKMiG-29 fighters and Aermacchi MB339CB trainers. These programmes may also be delayed.

A further delay in the army procurement gives other manufacturers time to persuade Malaysia to hold another competition. Malaysia initially planned to purchase the Eurocopter AS555 and also evaluated the Eurocopter EC635 before selecting the A109 (Flight International, 3-9 June).

Source: Flight International