German type certification on cards after 18-month delay

After a year-and-a-half delay, Eurocopter is on the verge of achieving German type certification for the NH90 military transport helicopter, clearing the way for official delivery of the first aircraft. It is also confident of adding Spain and Belgium to the existing 12 customers in a few weeks.

Eurocopter chief executive Fabrice Bregier, strongly tipped to take over as chief operating officer at Airbus, admits that the NH90 programme - with 25 variants and five assembly lines and in which there are 3,500 unforeseen customer requirements - has beena "nightmare".

He insists, however, it is now "on track to become an unmatched commercial success".

Eurocopter has a 62.5% stake in the NH90, with AgustaWestland holding 32% and Stork Aerospace 5.5%. Lutz Bertling, chief executive of Eurocopter Germany and vice-president of military programmes, predicts the current NH90 orderbook will grow at "around 50 a year" over the next five years. "We're very close to signing with Belgium and have a letter of intent with Spain for 45 aircraft," he says. Spain, "which is rapidly becoming the third pillar of the world's biggest helicopter manufacturer", will also have a final assembly line.

Germany will receive the first three of 80 NH90s by year-end and Greece, with orders for 20, Finland 20 and Sweden 18, will also take delivery of their first aircraft. Bertling, thought highly likely to replace Bregier as the Eurocopter chief executive, says "about 160" NH90s are currently in the production process to meet planned deliveries of 38 aircraft in 2007 rising to 80 a year in 2008-11.

He adds that, despite the additional costs caused by the delays (which include penalty payments of "several million euros per customer"), the NH90 programme will be "very profitable" after break-even at 250 deliveries.

Source: Flight International