Move is part of update that includes reactivation of navy BO105s and purchase of search and rescue helicopters

The Philippines plans to introduce 60 used Bell UH-1H Huey utility helicopters over the next two years, and has earmarked 1.1 billion pesos ($20 million) in its 2004 budget to refurbish 30 of the aircraft. The expansion is part of a long-delayed modernisation plan that also includes the reactivation of navy Eurocopter BO105s and the acquisition of up to 18 new twin-engined search and rescue helicopters.

The USA early last year promised to give the Philippines 20 excess Hueys and enough spare parts to reactivate 10 of its current stored aircraft as part of a $1 billion defence aid package (Flight International, 27 May-2 June 2003).

However, the USA says it will be two years before the aircraft can be delivered, so the air force has opted to acquire another 20 under a separate deal. The service says Singapore Technologies Aerospace (ST Aero) will this month receive a 659 million pesos contract to refurbish 20 UH-1s independently sourced by the company from the USA. These will be refurbished to match the configuration of the air force's existing 27 Hueys, through the addition of night-vision equipment.

ST Aero is expected to deliver its first three aircraft to the Philippines by mid-year, with the remainder to be handed over by year-end.

The USA, meanwhile, has pledged to supply the Philippines with an additional 10 UH-1s, provided these are refurbished in the USA. The air force says 443 million pesos has been set aside for this work, but that a contractor has yet to be selected.

The Philippine navy has released a tender to refurbish one BO105 this year. It has seven of the aircraft, but only two are operational. Eurocopter says it plans to bid for the work, and that contracts for additional aircraft will likely follow.

The air force also aims to announce a platform selection for at least nine search-and-rescue helicopters in 2004, although manufacturers expect budget constraints to delay this procurement by at least another year. Manilla has only set aside 5 billion pesos for defence modernisation in 2004, with the air force share worth around 1.8 billion pesos.

Philippine maintenance company Asian Aerospace did not bid for the contract to refurbish the UH-1Hs, but will seek maintenance contracts to support the expanded fleet of more than 80 Hueys, says chief executive Peter Rodriguez.

The company will next month begin work to reactivate two air force Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transports, using funds provided by the USA. To be delivered before the end of the year, the aircraft will cost around $3 million each to overhaul.

The air force operates just two C-130s from a current inventory of 14, but hopes to reactivate additional aircraft from 2005 and eventually field an operational fleet of seven or eight. Asian Aerospace estimates only four of the 12stored aircraft can be returned to service, but says other airframes could be purchased from the USA if required.

The company will also reactivate one VIP Fokker F27 for the Philippines this year. The company until last year only supported helicopters, but has gradually expanded into fixed-wing aircraft work.

Source: Flight International