NH90 Faces Up To European Budget Cuts

By Tony Osborne
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Although Eurocopter and the German government have come to an agreement, this is still seen as a memorandum of understanding and the contract for the new arrangement needs to be finalized. According to Maudet, this is likely to happen after the Paris air show. “This now has to be staffed and initialized by Nahema [the NATO Helicopter Management Agency] and blessed by the other nations,” says Maudet. “It is fair enough and it helps the customer.”

The changes mean that Germany will be joining the naval NH90 program, and work is now ongoing to establish its needs. Officials hope the configuration will be close to the NATO Frigate Helicopter as chosen by countries like France and the Netherlands. The aircraft still remains on Australia's Project of Concern list, and Australian Aerospace, which builds the aircraft in that country, is to deliver another aircraft—free of charge—in a bid to put the program back on a “positive footing.” Australian officials say the aircraft, which were ordered in 2005 and 2006 under the Project Air 9000 Phase 2, 4 and 6 programs, could be removed from the list by the end of the year.

Maudet is confident of further export success for the NH90. Despite issues with delays of its aircraft for the country's coast guard, Maudet claims that Norway is satisfied with the model and could look to the type to replace its search and rescue Westland-built Sea Kings, as part of the Norwegian All-Weather Search and Rescue Helicopter program. NH Industries submitted its bid late last year and a decision is due in 2014. Another opportunity lies in Qatar, where the Amiri Air Force is looking for tactical transport and naval helicopters. According to Maudet, Qatari pilots conducted a thorough evaluation of the aircraft. India is also a potential customer, but the type faces stiff competition from Sikorsky's UH-60 Black Hawk and MH-60R Seahawk. Officials are confident that the NH90 has finally turned a corner after its troubled gestation, but recognize that part of the problem was allowing too much customization.

“With a clean sheet, there would be fewer configurations, one land and one naval,” said Maudet.

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