April 15, 2013
With Warsaw embarking on potentially one of the largest rotary-wing buys seen in Europe in more than a decade, Eurocopter and French engine-maker Turbomeca have some catching up to do.
This month, the companies said they plan to partner with Lodz-based Polish Military Aviation Works No. 1, known as WZL 1, in a bid for 70 medium-lift transport helicopters that will replace part of the Polish armed forces' Soviet-era helicopter fleet. If Warsaw were to choose Eurocopter's EC725 Caracal equipped with twin Turbomeca Makila 2 engines, assembly and test of the aircraft and motors would take place at manufacturing facilities to be established in Poland.
The pitch comes as Eurocopter seeks to boost its presence in Central and Eastern Europe. AgustaWestland and Sikorsky already enjoy a firm foothold in Poland following their takeovers of PZL-Swidnik and PZL Mielec, respectively. These facilities are up and running, producing helicopters and components for their respective parents. PZL-Swidnik builds the SW-4 light helicopter and the W-3 Sokol intermediate twin helicopter as well as fuselages for the AgustaWestland AW109 and AW139, while PZL-Mielec produces the M-28 fixed-wing transport aircraft and also builds the Sikorsky S-70i International Black Hawk.
“We are coming later than the others, but we are coming on strong,” says Olivier Lambert, Eurocopter senior vice president for sales, noting the company sold 23 EC135s to Poland in 2008 to replace the country's aging fleet of Mi-2s in support of its emergency-medical-service network. Operated by Warsaw-based Lotnicze Pogotowie Ratunkowe, the fleet is distributed among 17 Polish bases, with technical support provided by Warsaw-based Heli Invest, a Eurocopter distributor and certified maintenance center.
Eurocopter's corporate parent, EADS, also has a foothold in Poland since the 2001 takeover of PZL Warsawa-Okecie. The company previously built the Orlik turboprop trainer but is now an aero-structures specialist.
According to the country's new 10-year military modernization plan, Poland plans to purchase 200 helicopters over the next two decades, though senior military officials say the figure is closer to 150, with the first tranche of 85-90 scheduled to be procured by 2022. In addition to the bid for 70 medium-lift utility helicopters, Warsaw will procure at least a dozen new attack helicopters in the next decade to replace Poland's Soviet-era Mi-24 Hinds.
The Polish land forces air mobility chief, Maj. Gen. Dariusz Wronski, says compatibility with NATO forces is a major driver behind the country's planned helicopter replacement. He says requirements for a future assault helicopter include “longer-range, more precision and safer” aircraft.