EH101 and Sikorsky S-92 expected to vie for relaunched VIP/utility programme, with training requirement set to follow

South Korea is preparing to open a competition for new VIP/utility helicopters in the next few months and may also seek information on new training helicopters.

Manufacturers expect a request for proposals (RFP) to be issued by October for at least three large transport helicopters, including two in utility configuration and one for the VIP role. The RFP, which marks the relaunch of South Korea's long-delayed VH-X programme, is expected to invite AgustaWestland EH101 and Sikorsky S-92 bids.

Manufacturers also believe a request for information for up to 30 light army training helicopters will be issued by year-end. Bell, Enstrom, Eurocopter, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), Robinson, Schweizer and PZL Swidnik will evaluate the TH-X requirement once it is formalised.

Industry sources are confident the VIP purchase will proceed next year while the RFI for trainers could lead only to a preliminary evaluation and may not be quickly followed by an RFP. The trainers are competing for funds against several other army helicopter requirements, but the VIP helicopters are separately budgeted and will be air force-operated.

South Korea last issued an RFP for three VIP helicopters three years ago. The EH101 and Kazan Mi-17 were shortlisted because the S-92 was not available. Industry officials believe the new RFP may be increased by a few helicopters, with the EH101 and S-92 the only serious contenders.

For years the South Korean army has studied replacing the Bell UH-1s and MD Helicopters MD500s it uses to train about 100 pilots a year. Bell is offering the TH-67Creek used by the US Army, while Eurocopter may offer the similarly sized EC120.

Bell is prepared to offer leases if budget constraints prevent a traditional purchase. But Seoul may instead opt for lower-cost trainers such as the Enstrom 480B, Robinson R44 or Schweizer 333.

KAI could benefit from VH-X and TH-X offset packages, including possible co-assembly of the new trainers. KAI may team up with Bell to offer the SB427 for TH-X or with its other helicopter joint venture partner Swidnik to manufacture the W-3 or SW-4.

Source: Flight International