Eurocopter Gives Australia Free NH90 Chopper in Delay Accord

European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co.’S Eurocopter unit, the world’s largest helicopter maker, will provide Australia with an extra NH90 model after the program fell three years behind plan.

Australian Aerospace, Eurocopter’s local arm, will deliver a 47th MRH90 multi-role version for free, the country’s defense ministry said in a statement today, adding that the agreement will help put the program “back on a positive footing.”

Australia ordered the MRH90 in 2005 and 2006 to replace Bell Helicopter UH-1 and Sikorsky UH-60 troop transports and AgustaWestland Sea King maritime machines. A series of glitches including component failures on the RTM322 engine from Safran SA and Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc delayed completion of the contract.

“Australia is a relatively harsh environment in which to operate helicopters and the MRH90 has experienced some teething problems,” the Department of Defence said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Negotiations leading to today’s settlement were held under Australia’s Projects of Concern framework, and could lead the MRH90 program to be removed from the name-and-shame list by the year’s end, the government said. The additional helicopter will be used for training by army and navy technical personnel.

Australia has received 19 MRH90s and will take six to seven per year through late 2017, the ministry said. The helicopter is expected to reach its initial operational status with the navy sometime in the middle of this year, it said.

Marignane, France-based Eurocopter, which is wholly owned by European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., said it welcomes the breakthrough. The company’s Australian Aerospace unit assembles the MRH90 at a plant in Brisbane, Queensland.

Modifications being introduced to the helicopters included a stronger cabin floor, better protection of windscreen and engines, improving seats and the cargo hook, the ministry said.

Australia awarded a contract for 24 navy helicopters to the MH-60R made by United Technologies Corp.’s Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin Corp. in 2011 after the MRH90 came under scrutiny.

(Updates with defense ministry comment in fourth paragraph, delivery plans in sixth paragraph.)
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