Manufacturer Says Troubled NH-90 Has Come of Age

 - May 23, 2014, 7:30 AM
This NH-90 NFH (Naval Flight Helicopter) from the Italian navy was on static display at the ILA Berlin airshow. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

Despite many program delays and customer criticisms, the pan-European NH-90 helicopter “is fit for purpose and doing real missions,” according to Vincent Dubrule, president of the NH Industries joint venture among Airbus Helicopters, AgustaWestland and Fokker. He acknowledged that the NH-90 “had been a development program for too long, with a lot of variants. But now, nearly all the deliveries are in the final configuration.” The current focus is to refine in-service support, reduce the intervals between scheduled maintenance and “solve the remaining maturity issues,” Dubrule added.

Dubrule spoke at a press briefing during the ILA Berlin airshow that was also fronted by NH Industries managing director Luigi Cereti and Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Fleury. The latter noted that the NH-90 was the first fly-by-wire helicopter, and only the second fully composite-airframe helicopter in Europe (after the Tiger). This technology is paying off today, he added, with good feedback now coming from customers. NHI has now delivered 195 NH-90s to 12 customer nations, and the fleet has amassed more than 50,000 hours, Fleury said. The backlog is more than 300 helicopters; the production rate is now stable at about 50 per year.

The Dutch navy recently deployed the naval version of the NH-90 on a frigate to combat piracy off the Somalia coast. Dubrule described an intercept of pirates that could have been prompted only by the NH-90, with its long-range radar. He downplayed the Dutch Navy’s post-deployment complaint about unexpected corrosion on the helicopter. “All the issues are manageable; it’s all part of the entry-into-service process,” added Fleury.

Germany has reduced its order for the tactical transport version of the NH-90 substantially, but partially compensated the manufacturer by agreeing to acquire 18 naval versions that will be called the Sea Lion. This version is now fully defined, and deliveries to replace the German Navy’s Lynx helicopters will start in 2017, Dubrule said.