Government to reassess competitors to NH90 helicopter, while Kongsberg targets platform for support work

Norway insists it is still considering the NH Industries NH90 as a possible candidate to add to its search and rescue helicopter fleet, despite announcing in February that it would not exercise options for 10 of the aircraft intended for this purpose.

"The NH90 is not out of the question," says defence minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, but adds: "The process is opened again to see if other helicopters can meet the requirement." Norway's ministry of justice, responsible for making the decision, decided "it wasn't obvious that this helicopter was the best for the rescue service", Strøm-Erichsen says.

The entry into service of new SAR helicopters could now be delayed, Strøm-Erichsen admits, although she insists that the dual responsibility for modernising the fleet is not causing problems: "We have a good co-operation. The minister of justice gives this part of his responsibility very strong focus."

Meanwhile, Norway's Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace is aiming to carry out software maintenance for the nation's fleet of 14 NH90s, as a "domestic partner" to helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland, which holds a 32% stake in NHI. Kongsberg's export marketing manager for naval systems Svein Larsen says AgustaWestland would continue to carry out major configuration changes to the helicopters under the arrangement, after their expected delivery to Norway from the second quarter of 2008.

But as far as Kongsberg's potential role goes, he adds: "We are talking about going deeper in areas where the configuration is just for Norway." The company's role could include analysing data from error reports and health monitoring equipment, he says. Kongsberg has had a team in place at AgustaWestland's facility in Cascina Costa, northern Italy, since 2003. "It is our ambition to take care of domestic maintenance," says Larsen.

Kongsberg also hopes to offer mission planning services for the anti-submarine warfare-equipped aircraft that form part of the Netherlands' 20-strong NH90 order, facing competition from AgustaWestland. Both companies have been shortlisted to contest the Dutch requirement, and Larsen says a decision is expected from mid-2007.

Source: Flight International