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SINGAPORE: Airbus Helicopters targets Asian sales expansion

Airbus Helicopters is eyeing military and parapublic sales opportunities across Asia which could lead to it greatly expanding its industrial presence in the region.

India and Indonesia could both take a bigger role in the manufacturer’s global supply chain or, in the case of the former, a significant amount of final assembly work for domestic and export markets.

“There are quite a number of opportunities going on in the region – almost all countries will renew and expand their fleets,” Philippe Monteux, head of the airframer’s Southeast Asia business, told Flightglobal during the Singapore air show.

By far the most lucrative prospect is India, which is seeking huge numbers of military helicopters across multiple weight classes and applications. The furthest advanced is for New Delhi’s coastguard, which has provisionally selected the H225M Caracal for its 14-aircraft requirement. Assuming the contract is finalised, deliveries would begin around 2018, says Monteux.

Although negotiations are “progressing”, they are “going at the speed of India”, he says, referring to the country’s frequently tortuous acquisition process.

More recently this has been complicated by the launch of the nation's "Make in India" initiative, which seeks considerable technology transfer and local content as an offset in all contracts.

Airbus Helicopters in July announced it would partner with Mahindra Defence “to develop the concept and create a joint venture in India capable of producing helicopters”, says Monteux.

Three different types are in the frame for separate requirements, he says, and all could be assembled locally if selected.

But in one case, Airbus Helicopters is promising significantly more: if successful in its bid for the navy’s proposed acquisition of utility helicopters, the airframer is promising to transfer all production of its candidate AS565 to India.

“If we are the winning party it will be our worldwide production [site] for the Panther – not only for India but for all countries,” says Monteux.

Other opportunities include light scout and naval multirole helicopters, for which the company is respectively bidding its H125M Fennec and the H225M.

Although the Kamov Ka-226T has already been selected for a 196-unit deal as part of the light scout requirement for the air force and army, Monteux believes India could still consider the Fennec, not least because India may need as many as 800 helicopters for the role.

The Caracal, meanwhile, is vying for the multirole tender for up to 125 aircraft. If it is selected and final assembly localised, this would be the third production line globally – after Brazil and France – for the 11t-class rotorcraft.

Elsewhere in the region, Indonesia operates a fleet of six H225Ms for combat search and rescue (CSAR) missions and could seek further examples for similar transport/CSAR operations, says Ludovic Boistot, president director of Airbus Helicopters Indonesia.

However, it will face competition from the AgustaWestland AW101 in any contest, with Daniele Romiti, head of Finmeccanica Helicopters, stating at the show Jakarta had expressed interest in the platform.

Airbus Helicopters has a strong industrial presence in Indonesia, through its long-standing relationship with national aerospace champion PTDI. This produces fuselages and tail booms for all variants of the H225 globally, and performs installation and integration of mission equipment for the nation’s armed forces.

“That’s why we really believe in this strategy,” says Boistot. "We are transferring both knowledge and content to Indonesia.”

This could play into its hands if Indonesia decides to procure presidential transport helicopters. Last year its air force indicated a plan to buy three AW101s for the role, but president Joko Widodo reportedly axed the purchase on cost grounds and a lack of local content.

“We hope that national industry will be preferred choice for the president,” says Boistot.

Other opportunities in the country come in the parapublic sector with the national police having begun, with an order for a pair of Bell Helicopter 429s, the process of replacing an elderly rotary-wing fleet, primarily composed of licence-built Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo 105s. In addition, existing customer Basarnas – Indonesia’s national search and rescue agency – could require “one to two helicopters per year”, he says.

Airbus Helicopters also hopes its customer in Malaysia will return with new orders. Kuala Lumpur operates 12 H225Ms, and Monteux believes it could take an additional 15, although with its economy driven by oil, he cautions budgets are in flux.

The airframer is continuing to deliver and usher into service helicopters for Thailand. So far the Royal Thai Air Force has received four of an eventual six H225Ms; the Royal Thai Army 11 Fennecs and six UH-72A Lakotas acquired from the US government, while deliveries of six Airbus Helicopters H145s are due to begin shortly. And next year the Royal Thai Navy will receive its first H145M. Initially destined for search and rescue operations, Monteux says in the long-term the customer is looking at “what kind of configuration they want”, in order to broaden the type’s versatility.

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