Airbus officials say US Army plans to use the UH-72A Lakota for pilot training boosts international and domestic sales potential. (Airbus Group)
WASHINGTON — The US Army’s decision to purchase 100 additional Airbus UH-72 Lakota helicopters for pilot training increases the potential for international sales of the aircraft, according to company officials.
“If you look at the other opportunities both in the US and allies, commonsense would say, if you have the largest rotary wing operator of aircraft in the world and they’ve made this selection, that takes a lot of risk out of your decision making,” John Burke, Airbus Group’s Lakota program manager, said at a luncheon with reporters on Thursday.
The Lakota, which Airbus builds in Columbus, Miss., is a militarized version of the commercial EC145. The Army does not use the aircraft in combat and instead uses them for homeland security, drug interdiction, general support, logistics and medical evacuation.
The Army had planned to conclude its purchase of 340 Lakota UH-72s in 2015. The Pentagon cut back Lakota purchases in its 2014 budget proposal, however, its 2015 spending plan adds 100 aircraft, for pilot training.
Using the aircraft for pilot training also increases the possibility for additional sales in the US and internationally, Burke said.
“Being a training helicopter is just huge,” he said. “It’s something every rotary wing pilot and the largest user of rotary wing aircraft is going to become initially familiar with.”
The Pentagon last year gave American Eurocopter, now Airbus Helicopters, the OK to sell six Lakota aircraft to Thailand. Five of the aircraft have already entered production, Burke said. Thailand plans to have aircraft flying by mid-2015.
“We think that other countries will look at that [sale] very favorably,” he said.
Burke would not say which countries are interested in the aircraft, but said there are numerous nations in different regions of the globe.
The company plans to deliver the 300th aircraft to the Army in the coming weeks.■