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17 Dec 03. The Canadian government on Wednesday called for bids to supply 28 maritime helicopters to replace its accident-prone 40-year-old fleet of Sea Kings.

A defense ministry statement said the bidding process would end on April 30, and the winner would be announced in “summer 2004”. The value of the bid is an estimated C$3bn ($2.3bn).

The saga of finding a replacement for the Sea Kings, complete with accusations of political favoritism and dirty tricks, has become an embarrassment for the ruling Liberals.

“I can say without reservation that the end result of this process will give the Canadian forces … a world-class helicopter that will meet our defense requirements for many years to come,” said Ken Ready, the head of the chopper project. The winner is due to be announced in mid-2004.The long process could stretch out even further after Ottawa ruled out bids from a consortium between Lockheed Martin Corp. and N.H. Industries, which includes Italy’s Finmeccanica unit Agusta as well as a unit of EADS.

Jane Billings of the Public Works Department told a news briefing the consortium’s NH-90 helicopter had failed a series of pre-bidding trials “in a number of areas”. She gave no details but Lockheed Martin Canada said it was disappointed.

“We find it incomprehensible that a helicopter which has been selected by nine countries with an excess of 400 on order right now can be deemed not even qualified to compete in the Canadian program,” said spokesman Michael Barton.

He said Lockheed had not yet decided whether to appeal the decision to the Canadian International Trade Tribunal. If the CITT also rules against the consortium, it can appeal to the Federal Court. The other contenders to supply the helicopters are E.H. Industries Ltd. — which is made up of Britain’s GKN Westland and Italy’s Finmeccanica unit Agusta and United Technologies Corp. unit Sikorsky.

The story began in November 1993, when then Prime Minister Jean Chretien scrapped a C$4.8bn order for all-purpose E.H. Industries helicopters that had been announced late in the mandate of the previous Conservative government.

The process of finding a Sea King replacement ran into endless delays, prompting critics to say Chretien was eager not to buy the E.H. Industries aircraft lest it appear that Ottawa had wasted the hefty cancellation costs it was forced to pay for scrapping the original order. Officials said it was mere coincidence that the bid process had been launched less than a week after Chretien was replaced as prime minister by Paul Martin, who has promised to strengthen the armed forces. “I suppose that if the previous government had proceeded, they would have been subject to criticism in terms of “Why are you launching into this major capital project at the end of your mandate?” Defence Minister David Pratt told reporters.

Each Sea King requires more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour it spends in the air and fed-up pilots have resorted to singing protest songs and creating fake recruitment posters to highlight their unhappiness.

Comment: Are we to expect more delay whilst Lockheed makes a formal complaint, with this bid anything can happen! But, this is good news for E.H. Industries which has already won the SAR requirement for Canada with its Cormorant helicopter and with the EH101 having commonality in parts this should make it a firm favourite, again! In addition, there was always speculation at the time of the Bowman award to General Dynamics Canada that the offset requirements there would easily be fulfilled by the Canadian helicopter requirement.

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