Eurocopter may renew attempts to sell Germany a naval version of its NH-90 helicopter now that the country is preparing to cancel orders for an army model, according to a French newspaper report.
The move by the helicopter subsidiary of aircraft company EADS would allow Germany to replace some ageing Sea King helicopters, and would soften the blow of a reduction in orders for the army version of the mid-sized transport helicopter.
Lutz Bertling, Eurocopter chief executive, said talks with the German ministry over proposed defence cuts would begin in mid-December, Reuters reports.
“We need to come up with an agreement in principle by March,” he told Les Echos newspaper.
Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere wants to adapt German defence projects to the country’s reduced and modernised forces.
The army wants 40 instead of 80 Tiger military helicopters and 80 instead of 122 units of the NH-90 transport helicopter.
Both projects are delayed and have thrown up technical problems.
A German defence ministry spokesman said he did not want comment on how defence reforms would impact individual projects.
Germany’s defence ministry has been negotiating since the 1990s with Eurocopter over the purchase of a naval helicopter, but the two sides failed to reach a deal because the aircraft on offer did not fulfil the requirements of the German navy.
German navy sources criticise the helicopter’s performance, noting also it was practically impossible to modernise it.
According to current plans, Germany will need to replace 21 Sea King and 22 Sea Lynx helicopters.
Germany is also looking at alternatives such as Sikorsky’s CH-148 “Cyclone”.
In another possible trade-off, Eurocopter is also interested in taking part in a future heavy helicopter programme likely to be shared with France and the United States, Les Echos said.
Bertling’s reported comments suggest Eurocopter wants to ensure Germany supports future programes rather than fighting tooth and nail over existing volumes, but he did not tie himself to any position ahead of the talks on implementing the cuts.
A Eurocopter spokeswoman declined to comment further.
Bertling also told the newspaper Eurocopter would seek French and German reimbursable government loans to develop its X4 civil helicopter, replacing its popular 12-seat Dauphin.
The loans, which have already been used for the company’s EC-175 helicopter, echo a system of reimbursable launch financing used by Eurocopter’s sister company Airbus.
Airbus and Boeing are locked in the world’s largest trade dispute over mutual accusations of illegal aircraft aid.
The use of such loans in helicopters has not so far attracted much attention but could begin to stir interest if technology is transferred to Airbus, according to trade experts.
With the X4, Eurocopter hopes to repeat what the Airbus A320 did for passengers jets by introducing a new level of electronic systems and automation, Bertling was quoted as saying. He saw a market for at least 500 craft from 2016 and hopes to sell 1,000.