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Eurocopter Canada hopes to replace aging Sea Kings

Nov. 20, 2013, Montreal - “The worst procurement in the history of Canada,” former defence minister Peter MacKay called it last year. And then some.


November 20, 2013
By The Montreal Gazette

Topics

First launched 21 years ago, the disastrous process to
replace Canada’s aging — and dangerous — fleet of Sea Kings maritime
helicopters has become a bad joke in Canadian aviation circles.

The
28-chopper deal was awarded, cancelled — at the cost to taxpayers of
$500 million — re-awarded, and may now be cancelled again — and then
re-awarded.

Romain Trapp hopes third time is lucky.

The new
president of Eurocopter Canada Ltd. said in an interview Tuesday that
he’s pinning his hopes on the NH90, a helicopter developed for NATO that
has 529 orders so far, 158 of which have already been delivered.

The
contract was awarded by Ottawa for the second time in 2004 to Sikorsky,
the helicopter unit of United Technologies Corp. But serious doubts
have arisen since then about the ability of the Sikorsky Cyclone to
fulfill the mission of ship-based helicopters for Canada’s military,
especially after a 2009 accident when a civilian version of the Cyclone
crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off Newfoundland, killing 17 people.

In
October, Ottawa launched a “data gathering engagement” request, and
last week asked three helicopter makers, Sikorsky, Eurocopter and Agusta
Westland, to make their best case for the contract for 28
maritime-based aircraft.

The results of the consultation should be
made by the end of the month, including whether it will scrap the
Sikorsky deal and start anew.

“The decision on the way forward is expected in the next few weeks,” said Trapp. “Time is of the essence.”

That’s
why, he argued, “it’s very important to take an off-the-shelf aircraft
with proven technologies” like the NH90 — should the Sikorsky contract
be cancelled.

The unit cost of the naval version of the NH90 is
estimated at between $47 million U.S. and $56 million, which would peg
the contract for the 28 ship-borne helicopters at between $1.3 billion
and $1.57 billion U.S.

“It’s operated by (14) different countries
in different extreme environments, from Afghanistan on one side to
Norway on the other side,” said Trapp, who comes to Canada after a
five-year stint in Dallas, Tex., as head of Eurocopter in the U.S.

Eurocopter
is owned by European giant EADS, which also owns Airbus SAS. EADS,
which is active in commercial aircraft, telecommunications, defence and
space, said Trapp, a French engineer who began his career at Airbus in
1999 working on the A380 double-decker passenger jet.

The military is important, but far from the only target, said Trapp.

Eurocopter
has managed to corner about two-thirds of the Canadian civil helicopter
market for the last decade, or about 20 out of 30 new choppers sold
here annually on average.

It’s a fairly stable market, dependent principally on natural resources — forestry, mining, oil-and-gas and hydro.

But
Trapp said that there are two other streams of potential revenues. He
wants to tap the replacement market for Canada’s total fleet of roughly
1,800 civil helicopters, whose average age is 27 years, with one-third
older than 35 years; and he is planning a serious push into expanding
end-users — principally police and emergency medical transport.

“I was very surprised by the very limited number of EMS (emergency medical service) aircraft in Canada.”

“In
the U.S., there are lots of them, 2,000 of them — practically every
county has one. Quebec has one EMS aircraft, I think — in Quebec City.”

“As
for law enforcement, the two biggest cities in Canada don’t have a
helicopter — Toronto and Montreal. But in Calgary, Edmonton and
Winnipeg, they have several.”

In the longer term, a third avenue
may open up for expansion — replacement of Bell Helicopter Textron
Canada’s fleet of 100 Griffon choppers operated by the Canadian armed
forces.

They are still relatively new, Trapp conceded, but “is it
worth spending money retrofitting an old aircraft?” he asked, when comes
time to rejuvenate the fleet.

Bell Helicopter Canada president
Barry Kohler replied that “in January 2011, Prime Minister Harper came
here for the express purpose of awarding us the 10-year optimized
weapons system contract (for the Griffon) — meaning that we had done a
sufficiently good job, making the aircraft and supporting them in the
interim, and they wanted to make a commitment to the continued use of
the platform.”

The 10-year deal also has an optional four-year extension, Kohler added, making a replacement unlikely for another 14 years.

His
firm may have an advantage over Eurocopter, mainly because of the large
plant in Mirabel which employs about 1,800 people and has a significant
web of local suppliers — a not insignificant consideration for
government decisions.

But Trapp noted that EADS’ various divisions in total also employ about 1,750 people across Canada.


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