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INDIA EXPECTS TO FINALISE HELICOPTER CONTRACTS SOON

INDIA EXPECTS TO FINALISE HELICOPTER CONTRACTS SOON
By Bulbul Singh

28 Nov 06. The Indian Defense Ministry is to announce the award of a contract for the purchase of 197 helicopters by the end of the financial year. For two years, the Indian defense ministry has been negotiating the purchase of 197 helicopters for the Indian Army.

European Aeronautic Defence & Space Company NV (EADS) and Bell Helicopters of the U.S. are in the race for the $ 543m deal.

Sources in the Indian Defence Ministry said, the deal will be finalised by the end of the current financial year ending March 31, 2007 as the Indian Army wants the deal to be quick paced and concluded at an early date.

Sources also said, Bell could be the front runner in the contract because the company has a presence in the India operations and the company has also tied up with state owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the maintenance and repair of Bell helicopters in India in anticipation of winning the contract.

A defence ministry official said EADS has a long association with Indian defence forces. Eurocopter, the EADS owned helicopter manufacturer, is also in close cooperation with the Indian industry. Since 1962, HAL has built over 600 Chetak and Cheetah helicopters under a licence for the world market leader, Eurocopter.
Currently, Eurocopter supplies rotor blades for the ALH. Among the customers of the European regional aircraft manufacturer ATR, a joint venture of EADS and the Italian company Alenia, are the Indian airlines Jet Airways and Alliance Air. The company also cooperates with HAL.

The European missile manufacturer MBDA, in which EADS holds a stake, has delivered air-to-air missiles to the Indian Air Force and anti-tank missiles to the Indian Army. India’s state owned Bharat Dynamics Limited, BDL which is the sole manufacturer of missiles has license produced Milan anti tank missiles in collaboration with MBDA.

Under the contract, 60 helicopters will be bought outright from the foreign vendor and the remaining 137 helicopters will be license produced at HAL facilities in Bangalore.

In early November Bell and HAL signed an MoU to explore the possibility of working together on several projects including maintenance and repair of Bell helicopters. The MoU could also mature into substantial business opportunities in the future, said a Bell Helicopter executive. Bell had approved HAL to become a component repair and overhaul facility for the Bell 407 in June 2003. So far Bell has sold 76 helicopters in India to date and clients include companies like state-run Pawan Hans, Air Deccan and Global Vectra, as also some state governments.

As the contract also stipulates the training of pilots, Bell has also approached the Indian defence ministry to set up a helicopter training institute in India.

The Indian defence ministry official said, global tenders will also be floated next year for the replacement of around 190 Cheetah helicopters with the Indian Air Force. The Cheetah helicopters are being used to ferry material to troops stationed at the Siachen glacier at 22,000 feet and the helicopters is overused. HAL, meanwhile is also producing another version of the Cheetah helicopter called Cheetal which will be inducted by next year.

The Cheetal has the same airframe as the Cheetah, but is powered by the engine used in the Dhruv advanced light helicopter. The Indian Air Force official said, in addition to Cheetal there is demand for advanced helicopters which can fly above 20,000 feet.

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