Norway has finalised its order for 16 search and rescue-configured AgustaWestland AW101s in a deal which, including spares and training provision, is worth NKr6.25 billion ($1.02 billion).

Deliveries of the new helicopters will commence in 2017 and run until 2020, says the Norwegian ministry of justice and public security, which has led the NAWSARH procurement. They will be flown by the Royal Norwegian Air Force and replace the service's aged fleet of Westland Sea King 43s, which will retire in 2020.

Speaking at the contract signing on 19 December, justice and public security minister Anders Anudsen said there had been political consensus in the country "to replace the Sea Kings as soon as possible".

"Acquiring new rescue helicopters will have major significance for the next 30-40 years and will offer a substantial improvement to Norway's search and rescue service," he says.



Anudsen cites the AW101's long-range rescue performance and its ability to cope with the country's harsh climate as key reasons for selecting the type. "It is the helicopter that best meets Norway's difficult requirements for the future," he says. The deal includes a further six aircraft covered by options.

Norwegian industry will benefit too, with the nation's aerospace and defence champion Kongsberg, which already performs overhaul activities on the Sea King fleet, to handle maintenance of gearboxes and rotor heads on the new helicopters. The deal includes the transfer of some technology to enable Kongsberg to maintain the drive systems on all AgustaWestland types.

Daniele Romiti, chief executive of the Anglo-Italian airframer, says he is "delighted" that Norway has selected the AW101, which he describes as "one of the most capable search and rescue helicopters in the world".

The order represents a key contract win the for the manufacturer, sustaining production of the type at its Yeovil, UK facility in the longer term. Nonetheless the firm faces a gap in its assembly schedule, with the backlog for Yeovil-made AW101s down to just six aircraft, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online Fleets database.

The AW101 faced competition in NAWSARH, which was launched in 2011, from the Eurocopter EC225, NH Industries NH90 and Sikorsky S-92. AgustaWerstland was named as the preferred supplier in November 2013.