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Rotorcraft rivals trade blows over US Army trainer buy

Airbus Helicopters has defended the US Army’s decision to purchase 155 of its rotorcraft to operate as trainers without running an open competition, despite a rival’s bid to stop the proposed $1.16 billion acquisition.

The service on 4 September issued a notice on the US government’s procurement website advising that it intended to buy up to 155 EC145 helicopters “on an other than full and open competitive basis”.This triggered a furious response from AgustaWestland, which has launched a judicial bid to get the acquisition temporarily halted and ultimately declared illegal.

Court documents filed in support of its 19 September hearing claim that the army’s selection of the EC145 – the civil version of the UH-72A Lakota already used by the service – is not providing value to the US taxpayer.

In his deposition, Robert LaBelle, chief executive of AgustaWestland North America, questions the EC145’s suitability for the role, noting that its “restricted flight manoeuvre envelope” would “likely impede its training utility”.

He also contends that the $7.5 million purchase price and $2,500/h operating cost of each EC145 is vastly in excess of those offered by comparable AgustaWestland products. The company could offer either the AW119Kx light single or the twin-engined AW109 to the US Army, he says, which have unit costs of $3.25 million and $4.75 million and operating expenses of $900/h and $1,800/h, respectively.

The planned EC145 acquisition is part of the army’s plan to overhaul its trainer fleet, retiring its Bell Helicopter TH-67 Creeks and OH-58A/C Kiowas and repurposing around 100 of its utility-roled UH-72As.

Airbus Helicopters believes AgustaWestland's figures are exaggerated. It claims a unit cost of $5.5 million for each EC145.

“The Lakota was competitively selected as a cost-effective platform to perform a wide range of missions, including training," it says.“We support the army’s plan to modernise its rotary wing training programme, and believe that no-one knows better than the army what is best for its aviators and overall force.”

Since the award of the Light Utility Helicopter contract in 2006, Airbus Helicopters has delivered 315 Lakotas to army, National Guard and US Navy units. The latter of these is already employing them as trainers, it says.

AgustaWestland declines to comment.

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