IN A LAST-DITCH MOVE to convince the Netherlands to buy Eurocopter's Tiger anti-tank helicopter, the Franco-German group has brought forward by two years the date for the award of long-lead production contracts.

France will receive some Tigers in 1999, to help Eurocopter meet the Netherlands' delivery date.

"We will have the preliminary industrialisation contracts prepared by the end of February," says Eurocopter president Jean-Francois Bigay, adding: "We expect the two governments will sign within a couple of months." France and Germany will then be expected to pay around 15% of the Fr3 billion ($570 million) total needed for industrialisation, says Bigay.

The Netherlands has delayed its choice between the Tiger and US McDonnell Douglas AH-64 Apache several times and had raised concerns that its 1999 delivery time-scale for the Tiger might not be met if the industrialisation decision is not taken soon.

Assurance of production funding by the French and German Governments "...removes any doubt that they will not fully engage in the programme", says Bigay. France is to purchase 215 Tigers, while Germany wants 210.

According to Eurocopter, France will now take the "first ten or so" Tigers in 1999, which is more than a year ahead of the original time-scale for initial delivery.

NH Industries has completed assembly of the first fuselage of the four-nation NH90 transport helicopter, following the arrival of the tail section from Fokker. The prototype is due to be flown in December. The price of the basic export version which NH Industries is beginning to discuss with potential customers "...will be around $15 million", says Bigay.

Source: Flight International