Eurocopter contends that neither of its competitors' offerings—the AW149 utility helicopter nor the S-70i International Black Hawk—is battle-proven, and that the EC725 is closest in size to the helicopters Poland's armed forces fly today. Sikorsky argues otherwise, pointing out that the S-70i is merely a customized version of its UH-60M, which has been used by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Sikorsky is also expected to offer its S-70B Seahawk to meet the anti-submarine warfare capability.
Poland is expected to issue a request for proposals in October, with a down-select slated for early 2014. If this schedule can be maintained, Eurocopter says the first Polish EC725 could enter service in late 2015. The first four or five aircraft would be built in France, where Polish engineers and technicians would receive training. A second batch of helicopters would be produced in Poland, with Eurocopter assistance. WZL-1 would then be responsible for producing the rest.
Joseph Saporito, executive vice president of Eurocopter's global supply chain, says while the current WZL 1 facility is geared more toward overhaul than assembly, European investment in establishing a Polish EC725 production line will be significant.
“Our common venture will become a Eurocopter industrial hub for central and Eastern Europe,” Saporito says. “It will bring enough work to ensure long-term employment for 300-500 workers in high-profile jobs.”
The model is similar to that already established in Brazil, where Eurocopter has expanded the capabilities of its majority-owned subsidiary Helibras, which is currently building 50 EC725s for the Brazilian air force, navy and army. It is also hoped the same facility will produce the civilian version of the aircraft, the EC225, to meet the needs of the Latin American oil and gas market.
For its part, Turbomeca is offering to establish a production line in Poland for its Makila-2 engine and to license MRO activities there. The project would mirror Turbomeca operations in Rio de Janeiro, where in 2008 Brazil's armed forces ordered 50 EC725 helicopters powered by Makila 2 engines to be assembled, tested and overhauled at Turbomeca do Brasil.
For Poland, “We will train them to support all operations and provide them with support to assemble and test the engines and some spares—roughly 150-160 engines total,” says Maxime Faribault, Turbomeca vice president of OEM. “The production phase will be 10 years or so, with the main asset being a test bench for production and license for MRO activities in Poland, which allows support for the next 40 years.”
Faribault says the first engine will be produced in France, where training will be provided to Polish engineers, followed by assembly of engines in Poland.
“If it works well in Poland, we could have them repairing civil engines in the future,” Faribault says.
WZL 1 was established in 1945 to perform overhaul work for the Polish air force. Today the company works out of an annex at Lodz Airport, performing maintenance and overhaul work on Polish military helicopters including the Mi-2, the Mi-8/17 Hip, Mi-14 Haze and the Mi-35 Hind as well as the U.S.-built Kaman SH-2G SeaSprite, which is in service in small numbers with the Polish navy. It is one of three aircraft overhaul and manufacturing facilities reporting to the Polish defense ministry, in addition to WZL 2 and WZL 3.