American Eurocopter has received an FAA aircraft production certificate to manufacture its U.S. Army UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter and EC 145 commercial variant at the company’s plant in Columbus, Miss. The first helicopter produced under the certificate was delivered to the Army on August 27. The Army is assigning initial-production Lakotas to the National Training Center Air Ambulance Detachment in Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va.
On August 23, the U.S. Army approved full-rate production of the UH-72A after a review of program management, production, manpower, logistics and other aspects. This review included assessing American Eurocopter’s capability to meet the Army’s delivery, quality and support requirements.
UH-72As will be used primarily within the U.S. for homeland security operations, medical evacuation, passenger/logistics transportation and drug interdiction missions. A significant percentage of the UH-72As will be delivered directly to Army National Guard units throughout the country, allowing older-generation helicopters to be retired and freeing up larger rotary-wing aircraft for assignment to other duties, including foreign deployments.
Under the Army contract, Eurocopter will produce 322 UH-72As at Columbus over the next 10 years. The total contract is valued at more than $2 billion. To fulfill the contract, Eurocopter plans to increase the size of its Columbus facility from 92,000 sq ft to 325,000 sq ft and increase its current workforce from 44 to 330. The expanded facility will contain a dedicated assembly hall, flight line, paint shop, warehouse and offices for administration, flight operations and flight test engineering.
This is Eurocopter’s second U.S. production certificate. In 2005, the company received FAA approval to build its AS 350 B2 and B3 helicopters in Columbus to fulfill contracts for the U.S. Department of Homeland security and other customers. American Eurocopter president Marc Paganini called the award of the new certificate “another important step” in serving the U.S. market.
The Army began taking initial helicopter deliveries earlier this year. Before the award of the certificate, the UH-72As were produced at Eurocopter’s Donauworth, Germany plant, disassembled and shipped as kits to Columbus for reassembly. An American Eurocopter spokesman told AIN that the UH-72A production rate at Columbus would increase from the current two per month to three per month by February next year and eventually to five per month in 2009.