Airbus Helicopters hopes the commercial approach it took providing the UH-72 Lakota as the U.S. Army’s primary helicopter trainer will appeal to the Navy when it chooses its own new trainer in 2020, company President Chris Emerson told reporters July 24.
Airbus is pitching the twin-engine H135 helicopter as the U.S. Navy’s next trainer in a near-mirror reprise of its offer of the H145 to the Army to replace its TH-67 Creek trainer.
Airbus in May announced plans to go up against Leonardo and Bell [TXT] in pitching an aircraft to replace the Navy’s current fleet of aging TH-57s. Bell is pitching its newly unveiled 407GXi — the most modern version of the venerable 206, on which both the TH-57 and Army TH-67 Creek are based. Leonardo is offering the rebranded TH-119, a version of its commercial AW119Kx.
Though a request for proposals has yet to be released, the Navy said in October it would look to purchase a commercial, off-the-shelf replacement starting in fiscal year 2020. Airbus believes its commercial approach will match up with the Navy’s requirements and allow the service to “buy and fly” in the same year.
“We don’t have decades … of being under contract with the U.S. government,” Emerson said. “Our DNA is we self-invest, and we drive off a commercial strategy, and that’s worked for us,” Emerson said during a lunch with reporters in Washington, D.C. “We’ve been able to prove that we can deliver a commercial off-the-shelf product to the U.S. Army.”
Airbus has delivered 420 Lakotas to the Army so far since it was awarded the contract in 2006.
“After 10 years, we lowered the flight-hour rate [of the Lakotas] with a commercial approach,” Emerson said. “There is a benefit from finding the recipe of bringing commercial products to the DoD.”
That recipe is a mix of providing safety and value, he said. Despite being a twin-engine helicopter, the H135 is “comparable to a single-engine helicopter in terms of operating costs,” he said.
Emerson underscored the H135’s suitability for training the next generation of pilots and ensuring the Navy’s readiness in the face of a potential pilot shortage.
“How do we pull in a new generation into a very traditional industry?” he said, adding that there is an estimated shortage of 3,000 pilots across all U.S. military services.
A benefit that enhances the service’s readiness requirement is the H135’s Helionix modular avionics system that can be upgraded as needed, Emerson said.
Should Airbus be awarded the contract, Emerson said the H135s would be built in its facility in Columbus, Mississippi, where the Lakota is also assembled. Airbus plans to take the 135 to Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Pensacola, Florida, where Naval aviators will fly the platform later this year. A request for proposals is expected in October.