HAL to seek foreign tie-up for Light Utility Helicopter programme

Indian aerospace giant Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will seek a foreign partner for its indigenous Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) programme and is likely to announce its selection sometime in 2009. Sources suggest that EADS division Eurocopter will most likely be the preferred partner.

 State-owned HAL has been asked to design, develop and produce 187 helicopters for India's army and air force. This order, sanctioned in June this year, shall be in addition to the 197 LUHs that India will buy directly from a foreign supplier. An international tender has already been issued for this order.

The Indian defence ministry scaled down its global tender for the purchase of light helicopters from 384 to 197 in June this year, with the remaining 187 to be built by HAL.

It is expected that HAL will begin delivery of the indigenous aircraft only around 2015.

"We hope to begin the initial work on the light utility helicopter next year. It would take around five years to completely design and develop a new helicopter, and an experienced Western partner would help in every stage," a HAL official has been quoted as saying.

HAL sources also suggest that Eurocopter's AS550 Fennec will very likely be selected as the candidate for the 197-helicopter tender. They say the model had come very close to winning an earlier tender, which was cancelled last December after US firm Bell Helicopter complained that the EADS subsidiary had been unfairly favoured in the selection process.