The Portuguese air force is expected to make a decision by the end of the year on the selection of a search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter, after evaluating the last of the three contenders for the contract.

The evaluation of the Eurocopter AS532 Cougar MkII is due to begin on 20 October. The EH Industries EH101 and Sikorsky S-70 have already been demonstrated.

The twin-turbine Cougar will be evaluated in the maritime fisheries-protection role, and for its operational capability in the SAR and combat missions, from Eurocopter's base at Marignane, France. According to the Franco-German consortium, the evaluation is expected to run for eight days.

The Portuguese Government invited bids in May for a contract for up to 14 helicopters, valued at around $300 million. The initial requirement is expected to be for two aircraft deployed in a fisheries-protection role.

It is anticipated that the air force will later acquire between nine and 12 machines for its SAR and combat requirement, to replace its Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma Mk2s.

Speaking at the Helitech '97 show at Redhill in the UK, which was held from 30 September-2 October, Eurocopter's European sales manager, Jacques Cardillac, claimed: "The Portuguese air force will want a helicopter that is tried and tested, and our Cougars have built up around 1.5 million flight hours."

EH Industries says: "A prime requirement is not to buy a piece of kit that in 30 years' time will be 60 years old. It really does depend on the value that you place on the aircraft's additional capability."

Source: Flight International