NH Industries (NHI) is ramping up production of its NH90 transport helicopter and is closing in on the 200th delivery of the type as it looks to put the delays and contract disputes that have dogged the programme behind it.
Speaking at a Paris media event on 28 January, Guillaume Faury, chief executive of Airbus Helicopters, which has a majority stake in the NHI consortium, said the NH90 "has now overcome the difficulties of the beginning of the programme" and has entered the "industrialisation and fast delivery phase". The eventual target is a production rate of 60 aircraft per year, including those manufactured by partner company AgustaWestland, rising from nearly 50 in 2013.
The current backlog stands at over 300 aircraft, says Faury, and the company continues to "actively promote" it to potential customers.
Qatar is seen as a likely buyer and could place a 22-aircraft order for a mixture of both the TTH troop transport and NFH naval variants - alongside 20 Tiger attack helicopters - following a technical evaluation conducted by the Gulf nation last year, says Dominique Maudet, Airbus Helicopters' executive vice-president for global business and services.
Although the NH90 secured a deal in June 2013 for 34 helicopters to be operated by the French army, that is the only commitment in the last two years. Other nations, meanwhile, are looking to amend or cancel orders to reflect declining defence budgets.
Portugal is still in talks with contracting agency NAHEMA over the cancellation of its agreement for 10 troop transports, with Lisbon likely to incur a financial penalty for its decision. And although Spain will take delivery of its first NH90 TTH this year, it has yet to finalise alterations to its contract for 45 aircraft, which would see the overall order cut to 22 and the addition of a logistics support package of a similar value. Nonetheless, Faury insists that Madrid remains "very committed to the programme".
Germany too is seeking changes to its future helicopter requirements. Under a plan announced last March, it will cut the number of Tigers it intends to acquire from 80 to 57 and reduce its order for 122 NH90 TTHs to 100 aircraft in total, which now includes 18 of the maritime variant for the German navy. The modification has been agreed in principle with Berlin, says Maudet, and is now "in the hands of the contracting agencies [OCCAR and NAHEMA] to put that into place". Maudet anticipates the revised deal will be signed off in 2014.
Airbus Helicopters also remains in negotiations with New Zealand over penalties for late delivery of its eight NH90s, which were all due to have arrived by 2011. While not disclosing the detail of the talks, Maudet confirms that the potential for compensation is included within the terms of its contract.
Outside of NHI, the manufacturer is additionally hopeful that it can secure further orders in 2014 from Mexico for between six and 12 EC725 Cougar transports and 12 AS565 Panthers, says Maudet.