The NH90 helicopter is built by NHIndustries, a consortium primarily composed of Airbus and AgustaWestland. (Zachary Fryer-Biggs / Staff)
BERLIN — On a day that could accurately be described as “Airbus Day” at the ILA Berlin Air Show, due to the number of media events the company has scheduled, executives tied to the program gave a state of the union-style update on the NH90 helicopter.
While the first NH90s were delivered in 2006, the program has finally reached maturity, NHIndustries President Vincent Dubrule said.
“The helicopter is not in development anymore,” he said. “It’s been deployed by customers.”
This year the production line will turn out about 50 of the NH90’s two variants, a production number that the company expects will remain steady. A total of 195 aircraft have been delivered to 12 nations.
Dubrule said the company’s attention is turning to reducing the frequency of maintenance on various components, and adjusting equipment to meet customer needs. “It’s our responsibility to make sure they fly how they want,” he said.
NHIndustries is a consortium primarily composed of Airbus and AgustaWestland, with components produced in several European countries for the NH90. The assembly plant in the South of France is a spotless facility whose walls are filled with charts and graphs highlighting the speed and quality of the work performed by the various crews. The NH90, one of the largest international joint weapons programs, is supposed to serve as the major backbone for many of the continent’s militaries and emergency services groups.
At the moment, NHIndustries is targeting the Germans, who have already cut their order from 202 helicopters of both the standard and naval variants to 139. Germany is still sorting through the specifications for its version of the naval variant, with the expectation that equipment will be delivered in 2017. There was some consternation after the decrease in the helicopter order only cut €200 million (US $274 million) off the original €8.3 billion price tag.
Other controversy arose after the Dutch complained that their naval variant was suffering rust issues after patrolling in anti-piracy efforts. The NHIndustries and Airbus officials dismissed these problems as “teething issues,” and laid some of the blame for the problems at the feet of the Dutch.
“It’s a new product,” Dubrule said. “Maybe we had not specified clearly enough how to prepare it before operations.”
However the German negotiations play out, the company already has a back log of about 100 helicopters, which should keep the assembly line humming for at least a couple of more years. ■