A FRANCO-GERMAN summit between French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Helmut Kohl on 5 June holds the key to the future of the Eurocopter Tiger and NH90 joint helicopter projects.

Confusion remains over France's commitment to both programmes following the Government's recent defence plan. Sources predict that Eurocopter may have to lay off up to 1,500 employees if neither goes ahead. "It's a worst-case scenario," says Eurocopter, "and we're still hoping that it won't happen."

The summit should lead to final agreement on the industrialisation of the Tiger and the NH90, and secure funding for both types. Eurocopter, with slack orders for its existing military helicopters, badly needs assurances on their future so that it can develop its business plan for the next few years.

The Loi de Programmation, which is now being debated in parliament, and will be voted at the end of June, envisages orders for 25 Tigers and 11 NH90s by the year 2002, with first deliveries of the Tiger the following year. It outlines major programmes from 1997-2002, and does not specify funding for either type. This will probably subsequently be decided annually.

"The key is an agreement on tooling up for production," says one source. "Once it has that, Eurocopter can plan for the future," the source adds.

France has to come up with half of the Fr3 billion ($600 million) needed for Tiger industrialisation under the agreement forged between France and Germany in June 1995 covering the unit price and tooling costs for the helicopter.

Source: Flight International