Efforts to improve the availability of the NH-90 helicopter are underway, according to Vincent Dubrule, president of NH Industries. The European joint venture has now delivered 232 of the helicopters, nearly half of the total ordered by 13 countries. Production has reached a "steady state" of approximately 50 per year.
The feedback from operators had been good, Dubrule told the International Military Helicopter Conference 2015 in London, organized by Defence IQ. “They tell us that it is easy to fly, with a very good power-to-weight ratio, and agile,” he said. But the NH-90, which is produced in two basic variants (tactical transport and naval), is a complex weapons system, Dubrule acknowledged. “It needs to be matured through experience,” Brig. Gen. Antonio Bettelli, commander of Italian Army Aviation (an NH-90 TTH customer) told the conference.
Dubrule said that NHI is working with customers to deliver spare parts and repairs on time, provide timely responses to service requests and reduce the maintenance man hours per flying hour. The NHI president noted that three NH-90 customers had signed support-by-the-hour contracts with NHI. They initially acquired the recommended amount of spares, and NHI has since repaired or replaced these at an agreed cost per flying hour. The pooling of spares inventories could further reduce support costs, but military customers are reluctant to take that step away from "ownership," Dubrule told AIN.
NHI is discussing the joint funding by some customers of future upgrades to the NH-90, Dubrule revealed. These upgrades could include additional satellite and Link 16/22 communications, enhanced avionics for night operations, more self-protection systems, integration of more weapons, improved ballistic protection, changes to cabin configurations, compliance with civilian IFR requirements and improvement to the TTH version’s ability to operate from ships.
Some customers might also be interested in the increased power and mtow of the version being produced for Oman, Dubrule added. He told AIN that another potential NH-90 customer in the Gulf—Qatar—has not yet finalized the order for 22 that it announced last March.