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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Program Insider--Franco-German Decision Keeps Eurocopter Role Alive

HEAVY-LIFT

Don’t count Eurocopter out of the heavy-lift market yet.

At the Paris Air Show, France and Germany’s armament directorates declared their interest in fielding a heavy-lift helicopter in the 2020 time frame. The agencies said they are "working to harmonize their requirements for operational and tactical airlift and air maneuverability to fill the gap beyond the capabilities" provided by vertical-lift platforms — the NHIndustries NH90 and Germany’s Sikorsky Aircraft CH-53Gs — and the Airbus A400M fixed-wing transport.

The statement followed Sikorsky President Jeff Pino’s comments that there wasn’t much of a possible role left for Eurocopter in the CH-53K program to develop a -53E replacement for the U.S. Marine Corps. Sikorsky is leading that project under a sole-source contract justified with the argument that the company is the only one that could field a suitable new heavy-lift helicopter relatively quickly. The Marines want their birds by 2014.

The market for such helicopters is estimated at only 300-400 aircraft. That’s hardly enough to justify two aircraft development programs, especially considering the CH-53K accounts for the lion’s share at 227. But a -53K derivative from Eurocopter might justify the investment. The Europeans want their aircraft later than the Marines, and they do not have the constraint of fielding a helicopter that can fit in the same spot on ships as the CH-53. France and Germany specifically said they are looking for a helicopter capable of working "within a wide range of operational, geographical, and meteorological conditions."

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