Paris Air Show

Eurocopter cool on civil NH90

 - December 12, 2006, 9:00 AM

NH Industries (NHI) has put project studies for a commercial version of the NH90 helicopter on the back burner. The multinational partnership had been studying a civil version of the NH90 military utility rotorcraft for possible application in governmental, executive and offshore-support roles.

Last year Eurocopter, the 62.5-percent majority owner of NHI, said that potential customers had expressed interest in an approved commercial variant while NHI reportedly worked on civil certification. NHI has already developed a “high-cabin version” of the NH90, which it could adapt to civil or governmental operations since passenger comfort would rank as a prime consideration, group marketing and sales vice president Alain Gauthier told Aviation International News. This variant, selected by the Swedish air force for search and rescue operations among other duties, offers 6 feet of cabin headroom–an increase of almost 10 inches over standard models.

Gauthier confirmed, however, that obtaining a certificate of airworthiness is “not a priority” and that project studies are “not active.” Perhaps with an eye to potential North American sales, the four NH90 national partners–France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands–agreed from the outset that the design specification for any civil development comply with U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations Part 29 (FAR29). Any North American sales of a civil NH90 could undergo service at Eurocopter’s factory in Mississippi, where it builds AS 350 Ecureuil/AStar light helicopters.

In VIP/executive or government sales, a civil NH90 could potentially compete against large designs like the 14-ton EH Industries EH101-300 Heli-Liner and -500 Utility variants and Sikorsky’s seven-ton S-92. Eurocopter already is pitching its 9.3-ton AS 332 L2 Super Puma and 10.4-ton EC 225 (civil EC 725) at offshore and VIP operators.

In a recent helicopter market forecast, the Teal Group cast doubt on whether the commercial sector can support two large turbine helicopters, let alone a third competitor. Its helicopter forecast suggests that the availability of new intermediate twins, such as the six-ton Bell/Agusta AB139 intermediate helicopter and 15-ton Russian Euromil Mi-38 might compromise the market. The NH90 uses an all-composite fuselage and fly-by-wire flight controls. Besides Eurocopter’s French and German shareholders, Italy’s Agusta and Fokker in the Netherlands hold 32-percent and 5.5-percent stakes, respectively. Four assembly lines in France, Germany, Italy and Finland manufacture NH90s.

Eurocopter is also considering a 6.5-ton machine to fit between its 4.3-ton AS365 Dauphin and the 9.3-ton Super Puma. If South Korea chooses the European company to partner in its multipurpose helicopter project, it believes a model could arise from the utility variant.