NHIndustries Says Availability Is Concern As 500th NH90 Delivered


Credit: Airbus Helicopters

MARSEILLE, France—The NHIndustries consortium building the NH90 battlefield helicopter has celebrated delivery of the 500th example of the rotorcraft, while acknowledging concerns over its availability.

The 500th aircraft—a Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) version of the aircraft for the French Army—was formally handed over during an event at Airbus’ facility here March 17.

The aircraft is the 58th NH90 delivered to the French Army and the 85th destined for the French armed forces. The French Navy also uses the NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) version.

The event comes as the NH90’s performance has faced question by several of the 14 operating nations concerned about its high operating cost and availability. 

Earlier this week, the Norwegian government announced it has selected Sikorsky’s MH-60R Seahawk as the replacement for the NH90s that Oslo decided to permanently ground last summer after years of frustrations with the aircraft. Australia is to transition its utility helicopter fleet to the Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk over similar concerns. Media reports suggest Belgium also wants to swap out its battlefield fleet of NH90s with smaller, cheaper helicopters as part of a modernization of its forces, and senior defense officials in Sweden have recommended the government undertake early retirement of its NH90 fleet.

Many of the other operating nations have expressed satisfaction with the aircraft’s capability. But the issues have not gone unnoticed by consortium members Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters and Fokker. 

“Although the NH90 has widely demonstrated its effectiveness, there are undeniable availability problems in its TTH and NFH versions which affect our users,” Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters, said at the event, which included delegations from six of the NH90 user nations. 

“I’m aware of the expectation and the frustration,” he added. “But I’m convinced that the transformation plan implemented over the last two years ... will help it recover soon.”

Part of the transformation plan has seen the consortium make additional investments into the supply chain to provide more stocks of spares and components as well as the development of bespoke support plans, reflecting the different environments in which aircraft users operate. Another move was to speed up retrofit processes associated with transitioning the aircraft from an initial operating capability configuration for training into a full/final operating capability that can take up to two years.

Axel Aloccio, head of the NHIndustries consortium, said the aircraft was still at the “beginning of its life” and its development road map—which currently includes several major upgrades as well as a midlife update in the 2030s—could allow the platform to operate through the 2070s and potentially to 2080. 

French officials said prime targets for the midlife update include an upgrade of the NH90’s avionics, perhaps using the Thales-developed Flyt’X suite being adopted for both the French H160M Guepard and the Tiger attack helicopter Mk. 3 upgrade.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.