Julian Moxon/PARIS Gert Kromhout/THE HAGUE

NH Industries (NHI) is asking the French defence ministry to bring forward by up to seven years its planned 2011 service entry date for army versions of the NH90 tactical and naval transport helicopter.

Under current planning, France will be the last of the four NH90 participating nations (the others are Germany, Italy and the Netherlands) to take delivery of the helicopter. Germany and the Netherlands want their first machines in 2003, and Italy the year after.

In the second week of March NHI sent the partner nations' ministries of defence its latest proposal on industrialisation and production of the helicopter, based on an initial batch of 200 machines.

The company says, however, that, to keep production costs to a minimum, it wants France to take a "significant percentage" of the first batch, to allow "equilibrium" between the work packages that will be awarded to each country. Industry sources indicate that this would mean France agreeing to take between 40 and 60 aircraft in the first batch.

Dutch state secretary for defence Jan Gmelich Meijling has highlighted these concerns in a report to the Dutch parliament. Discussing the differing interpretations of the NH90 memorandum of understanding in terms of workshare during the production phase, Meijling notes that a German proposal attempting to deal with these issues, put forward in late 1997, was accepted by Italy and the Netherlands, but not by France.

The report also notes that the overall price remains an issue. Under a French initiative, it says, a special working group has been set up to look at cost reductions and will report after 1 April.

Of the 647 total NH90s planned for production, Germany and Italy are to receive 243 and 224 respectively, France 160 and the Netherlands 20. NHI says that these numbers "still stand", although it admits that the figures may change as a result of the defence review under way in France. "Our main problem is to keep the programme on schedule-so we are proposing a global solution for all four countries that will enable the programme to be more focused," the company adds.

Meanwhile, the first NH90 powered by the General Electric/ Alfa Romeo/Fiat T700 turboshaft has flown.

The engine was fitted to the first prototype at Agusta's Cascina Costa factory near Milan and will undergo an 18-month partial qualification programme aimed, according to NHI, at "providing enough technical data to enable our customers to decide which engine they want".

The aircraft logged around 160h flying powered by the Rolls-Royce/ Turboméca RTM322, while the second of five prototypes is continuing trials of the fly-by-wire flight control system.

Source: Flight International