Bid to recruit Bell Helicopters for new-version EH101 flounders as company focuses on reviving tiltrotor programmes

AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin are seeking a US partner for local promotion and production of the proposed US101 version of the EH101 medium-lift helicopter.

Efforts to bring Bell into the fold appear to have stalled, as the company focuses on putting the Bell/ Agusta BA609 and Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor programmes back on track.

Lockheed Martin Systems Integration-Owego last year agreed to support the US101 - but any large orders from the US government will also require local production.

"There will be other US entities, and we are working with Lockheed Martin to complete the team - a specialised manufacturing house may be needed, but, at the moment, there is no obvious partner," says Giuseppe Orsi, AgustaWestland general manager.

Bell is part of the consortium offering the EH101 in Canada, and is a joint venture partner with Agusta in developing the AB139 and the BA609.

Despite this, the Fort Worth-based manufacturer appears to be cool on the idea of backing the US101. "We have had no discussions with AgustaWestland on the EH101 except conceptually, and there are no discussions going on at the moment," says Bell chairman and president John Murphey.

AgustaWestland is seeking to "Americanise" the US101 as much as possible, and to complete its local team quickly in order to compete for pending US military requirements.

This must be balanced by finding a "credible" local partner that can "keep costs as low as possible", adds Orsi.

Its options are limited though, with Sikorsky committed to the rival S-92, and Boeing to the larger CH-47 Chinook.

The EH101 is also competing for a Japanese military requirement for 14 airborne mine countermeasures and Antarctic support helicopters. AgustaWestland has an agreement in place for Kawasaki Heavy Industries to produce the helicopter under licence, providing the order is large enough.

"Fourteen is a number justifying a certain amount of production there," says Orsi.

Meanwhile, AgustaWestland has declared 2001 a record sales year, booking orders for 173 helicopters, all but six of which were for export outside of Italy and the UK.

The company is reporting projected revenues of $2.2 billion for 2001, which it claims is second only to Boeing Helicopters.

Source: Flight International