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Eurocopter and AVIC II combine forces to develop new helicopter

EADS subsidiary Eurocopter and China’s AVIC II have agreed to co-produce a new 6t helicopter as part of a €600 million ($701 million) deal signed last week during Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to France.

The new EC175, which EADS co-chief executive Noel Forgeard says fills a “hole” in Eurocopter’s range between the 5t Dauphin and the 10t Super Puma, is to make its first flight in 2009, gain European and Chinese certification, and enter series production in 2011.

Production will be split evenly between China and France and EADS says there could be a market for as many as 800 of the aircraft over 20 years.

China itself is forecast to need around 300 helicopters between now and 2015 and the EC175 “specifically addresses the new needs of the Chinese market”, Eurocopter says. “Over 20 years, the programme will be worth close to €10 billion,” says chief executive Fabrice Bregier.

He says the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engine has been picked for the EC175, in part because it is a commercially available engine. Other powerplants in the same class, such as the General Electric T700 and LHTEC T800, were not an option because they were developed for the military market and are not exportable to China.

Bregier cites the choice of the part-Chinese produced EC120 by the US border patrol guards as evidence that Chinese co-operation will not harm the company’ sales prospects in the USA.

The EC175 will be certificated for two-pilot instrument flight rules and single-pilot visual flight rules operations with 16 passengers.

China in signing the EC175 deal also “in principal agreed to select” the EC725 over the Sikorsky S-92 for a search-and-rescue requirement for the ministry of communications. Bregier says he is “very confident” a two-aircraft contract will be awarded shortly for deliveries in 2007.

HELEN MASSY-BERESFORD/PARIS
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BRENDAN SOBIE

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