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Austria allocates funding for helicopter fleet upgrade

Austria's government has committed funding for the acquisition of a total of 15 new helicopters in the coming years as it renews its rotorcraft capabilities.

Vienna has assigned more than €300 million ($343 million) for the purchases, which cover 12 light multirole helicopters – replacing 21 Aerospatiale Alouette IIIs – and an additional three Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawks, adding to the nine examples already in service.

The defence ministry says the S-70is could join the fleet from 2020 if negotiations are "swiftly" completed.

A request for proposals on the light helicopters has yet to be issued and the defence ministry says no timetable for the acquisition has been set. But Austria is hopeful that deliveries could begin around two years after any contract is signed. It previously committed to retiring the elderly Alouettes by 2023.

Vienna aims to acquire the multirole helicopters via a government-to-government deal.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has justified the decision to fund the helicopter fleet upgrade with a requirement to support the country's emergency services in disaster-relief operations.

Earlier this month, the defence ministry deployed around 1,100 soldiers for snow-clearing efforts across the country, which included using helicopters to blow snow from trees, for aerial supply and avalanche control flights.

Kurz states: "With this investment package we want to technically upgrade the Bundesheer and ensure that [the army] can support the emergency services in cases of disaster with the best equipment."

In 2018, Austria's government decided in principle to acquire the new helicopters.

Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that Austria's Alouettes are aged between 42 and 52 years.

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