Airbus reaffirms commitment to Broughton over military helicopter final assembly line
Airbus Helicopters has reaffirmed its commitment to the Broughton wing manufacturing site, confirming it as the exclusive final assembly line for the H175M helicopters.
This announcement follows recent suggestions of a shared facility with Saudi defence firm SCOPA Industries.
Airbus, along with Leonardo and Sikorsky, are competing for a £1.2 billion contract from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to build the UK’s successor to the Puma helicopter.
If Airbus secures the contract to supply 44 of its H175M helicopters, it could generate hundreds of jobs in the region.
Airbus intends to locate the H175M assembly line in Broughton creating up to 400 jobs at the site, with many more in the supply chain.
Airbus previously said it would also build H175M helicopters for the export market at Broughton.
Estimates suggest there could be a need for up to 500 helicopters in the Medium/Super Medium category worldwide.
According to aviation industry publication, Flight Global, “a recent agreement with Saudi defence firm SCOPA Industries – signed on the sidelines of the Paris air show – seemed to throw that commitment into question.”
SCOPA’s chief executive, Fawaz Alakeel, is quoted by the Reuters news agency as hinting at a joint production facility for the helicopters in Saudi Arabia, raising questions about Airbus’ commitment to the UK site.
However, Airbus Helicopters has clarified that the Saudi agreement is specifically for a “customisation and completion centre for the H175M,” states Flight Global.
The publication quotes Lenny Brown, managing director of Airbus Helicopters UK, who said, “Let me be absolutely clear: the H175M will only be produced in Broughton in Wales and will only be exported from Broughton in Wales.
“If Saudi Arabia wants to create some sort of design and ability to do some customisation locally, that’s absolutely fine. But they will not have a FAL inside Saudi Arabia.” Said Brown.
He further clarified that any local customisation activities undertaken in Saudi Arabia would not affect the primary production facility in Broughton.
However, the company remained non-committal regarding its future helicopter plans for Broughton if the H175M does not win the NMH contest, according to Flight Global.
Brown concluded that the company is ready for the next steps, and a first delivery within 18 to 24 months is feasible, subject to customer requirements.
The procurement process for the new helicopter, which began in May last year, is experiencing setbacks as dates for service commencement remain unresolved, as disclosed by a minister.
In a UK parliamentary defence committee meeting last month, Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton expressed her frustration at the repeated deferral of the NMH procurement process.
She stated, “The Puma is set to retire in 2025, and yet the Defence Equipment & Support team is quite frustrated with the absence of a procurement process for the medium-lift helicopter.”
The Wrexham MP continued, “To my knowledge, it’s been delayed three or possibly four times.”
“It is understood that it is now ready to be approved by the assessment committee, and then it needs to be endorsed before proceeding to the ITN (invitation to negotiate) phase, which could potentially add another six months to the process.”
She added, “This committee was informed earlier that the winning bidder would be announced by autumn.”
“This is an emerging capability gap. What are you doing and what’s the NMH process?”
Responding, James Cartlidge MP, the Minister for Defence Procurement, stated, “It is a very important question.”
“We have issued a notice and dynamic prequalification questionnaire assessment to invite expressions of interest and allow us to formulate a shortlist of viable contenders.”
“Beyond that, I’m afraid it is currently an active tender and commercially confidential.”
The Airbus H175M, considered a front-runner in the competition, provides a flexible range of mission capabilities, including utility/troop transport, special operations, medical evacuation, command control, and combat search and rescue. Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com