AgustaWestland expects to soon begin the AW101 flight evaluation and bid refining phase for the Norwegian all-weather search and rescue helicopter (NAWSARH) programme, following Oslo's decision to narrow its Westland Sea King replacement contest to the Anglo-Italian type and Eurocopter's EC225.
"This phase is expected to last until the end of the third quarter of this year", says Steve Powell, AgustaWestland's head of the northern Europe region. The Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security is expected to make a preferred bidder selection following flight evaluations involving both candidates, to begin negotiations and award a contract before the end of 2013.
First deliveries are planned for late 2016 or early 2017, with the last Royal Norwegian Air Force-operated Sea Kings to be phased out in 2020.
The programme seeks 16 aircraft equipped to perform SAR operations over sea and land, along with air ambulance and public security-oriented missions, with options on six more. The selected type must be capable of rescuing up to 20 people from a vessel 150nm (277km) from the helicopter's operating base, and two from a maximum range of 240-360nm.
Operating from six bases, the aircraft will "have to provide a 15min emergency preparedness 100% of the time", says Powell. Noting that the AW101 is already used as a dedicated SAR asset by Canada, Denmark, Italy and Portugal, he believes the type "is fully capable to accomplish the range of missions required, thanks to the platform's long range, large payload and cabin size, and demonstrated aircraft availability".
Both bidders also must offer a package of maintenance, support and training services for a 10-year period, based on aircraft availability requirements. Norwegian companies would be involved in providing such activities, says Powell, without providing details on AgustaWestland's proposed arrangements.
The procurement is being led by Norway's Justice and Public Security ministry. It says the helicopters proposed for the requirement were evaluated according to four weighted criteria, with performance (48%) and price (33%) heading the list, followed by reliability (12%) and risk (7%).
It says the two rejected proposals - the NH Industries NH90 and Sikorsky S-92 - are "very capable SAR platforms", but believes the two shortlisted candidates were "somewhat more suitable to the Norwegian government’s specific requirements".
Both airframers will be given until early October to "provide their best and final offer", says the Justice ministry, with contract signature planned for late December.