Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

AgustaWestland may withdraw from Australia's Air 87 armed reconnaissance helicopter competition amid concerns that penalty clauses in a draft contract released by the Australian Defence Material Organisation (DMO) in mid-December are excessive and unrealistic because of tight delivery timescales.

The manufacturer is understood to have informed DMO that an A129I Scorpion bid is unlikely to be submitted when the tender closes on 30 April. Australian team member Tenix Defence Systems was instructed to cease work on the tender on 23 February.

But AgustaWestland Australian bid director Mark Coughlan says: "AgustaWestland is still working on a request for tender [RFT] response."

The expected withdrawal is based on DMO requirements for the winner to pay liquidated damages of 25% of the contract price if initial operational aircraft are not delivered by 2004.

That deadline is unchanged since the tender began in mid-1998, despite a two-year delay in releasing the RFT after Bell Helicopter Textron protested against being left off the shortlist.

The DMO released the RFT to AgustaWestland, Bell, Boeing and Eurocopter last December. A shortlist of two is due in mid-June, with a selection by the end of the year, although this is widely expected to slide into 2002. The order is due to be for 20-24 helicopters.

AgustaWestland's withdrawal is a major set-back for Tenix, which is now without a role on the largest single DMO project expected to be contested over the next six years. Until late last year, Agusta-Westland had planned to undertake local assembly at the then Tenix-owned Hawker de Havilland (HDH) plant.

Last October, without informing its partner, Tenix announced the sale of HDH to Boeing, denying AgustaWestland a support base in the lead up to RFT release.

Source: Flight International