October 01, 2012
Credit: Credit: Eurocopter
Amy Butler Berlin and Washington
Major players in the rotorcraft market are teaming—some as odd bedfellows—as defense customers in the U.S. and Europe eye purchases.
In Europe, industry is posturing for a potential Franco-German heavy-lift helicopter program despite a lack of clarity from customers on what the requirements for such a project will be.
Stateside, the U.S. Air Force is expected to make yet another attempt at buying a replacement for its HH-60G Pave Hawk, which is used to rescue downed pilots behind enemy lines. The U.S. Marine Corps is expected to kick off a competition next year for its presidential helicopter replacement program. Both projects were botched by their respective services, sending both back to the drawing board for years to revalidate requirements.
These potential programs, on both sides of the Atlantic, are a welcome change of pace for the industry heavy-hitters who have been working mostly on existing production and upgrade projects after a relative drought of R&D dollars.
Now, the industry teams are shaping up to allow the major players to potentially share risk and—if they win the work—the rewards. Boeing and EADS, bitter global rivals in the civil aircraft market, have formalized a relationship to jointly explore rotorcraft opportunities globally. The companies signed a memorandum of understanding to this effect in 2009 with a renewal last October. It was later followed with a more specific agreement to examine options for the potential heavy-lift rotorcraft program in Europe, which will be the first practical application of the collaboration.
Boeing Military Aircraft President Chris Chadwick says he is open to unconventional partnerships to explore risk-sharing and, potentially, penetrate new markets. The team, while codified through the agreement, is far from firm, as questions linger about the heavy-lift project's viability.