Eurocopter seeks Turkish comeback
ÜMİT ENGİNSOY ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
A Eurocopter EC135 owned by the Iraqi air force is seen during a training near Baghdad on Nov 25. AFP photo
A top European helicopter-maker has expressed hopes that it will become Ankara’s key foreign partner in a Turkish program to design, develop and manufacture hundreds of light utility helicopters.
Eurocopter is looking to help in making both military and civilian helicopters that are worth more than $1 billion.
“We want to partner with Turkey in one of their top programs,” said Thomas Hein, Eurocopter’s vice president for sales. “The light utility helicopter program is a key project.”
Light utility helicopters are choppers that weigh between 4,500 kg and 5,500 kg. “We are developing our product range and we would like to collaborate with Turkey to produce a light-weight chopper from scratch,” Hein said.
U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation has already announced that it will also seek to win Turkey’s light utility helicopter race. Italy-based AgustaWestland is also expected to join the competition.
Under two multibillion-dollar contracts, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is collaborating with AgustaWestland to produce 59 T-129 attack helicopters and with Sikorsky Aircraft to make more than 100 T-70 utility helicopters. One of these helicopters weighs about 10,000 kg.
To meet its heavy-lifting helicopter needs, Ankara signed a contract worth nearly $400 million this year with American manufacturer Boeing to buy six CH-47 Chinook choppers.
Now the time has come for light utility helicopters, which are the last major chopper type Turkey wants to produce with a foreign company.
“In my personal view, all major helicopter producers in the world will seek this cooperation with Turkey,” Hein said.
Formed in 1992 through the merger of the helicopter divisions of France’s Aérospatiale and Germany’s DASA, Eurocopter sold 20 AS 532 Cougar utility helicopters to Turkey’s military and then worked with TAI to produce another 30.
Since 2006, however, the company’s presence has faded in Turkey after not participating in any Turkish helicopter deals. Yesterday’s remarks by Hein, who is responsible for ties with Ankara, effectively means that Eurocopter is back in the Turkish market.
“There also are major plans to export the Turkish helicopter. The product needs to competitive, mainly in Asia,” Hein said. “We are very open to cooperation with Turkey, and are impressed by its industrial development and growth.”
Although mainly a defense project, the light utility program will also manufacture many private and commercial choppers. However, the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), Turkey’s procurement agency, has not formally announced the program.
The Turkish government is expected to make a selection of a foreign partner in 2013. As a result, the total number of choppers to be made and the cost of the program are not yet clear although the deal is expected to exceed $1 billion.
Although Eurocopter itself has developed many helicopter types in several categories, SSM is reportedly insisting on the development of a new type. Hein said Eurocopter was ready to produce a new light helicopter with Turkey.
Eurocopter is part of the European defense giant EADS, which includes France, Germany and Spain.