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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 January, 2005, 12:17 GMT
Chopper firm flies high on deal
By Dickon Hooper
BBC News

The news that Somerset-based AgustaWestland is involved in a multi-billion dollar contract to provide helicopters for the US President comes at a key time for the company.

President Bush steps off Marine One on a visit to the UK
Sikorsky had said losing the contract could "make or break" it

Having just been sold to the Italians, Agusta was waiting on a major new government order for Lynx helicopters to help secure its future in Yeovil.

Now, it is part of a consortium led by Lockheed Martin and including Bell, to provide 23 new "Oval Offices in the sky" for George W Bush.

Alan Johnston, managing director of AgustaWestland, told the BBC: "There were champagne corks popping. This is a great piece of news.

"It is not just this contract. This opens up our medium-lift helicopter to a greater world market."

Agusta has already designed the EH101, which will now be adapted to become the US101 in a deal worth a reported 3.3bn.

The US Navy has ordered 23 Marine One's, and a US Air Force contract for up to 194 is expected to be negotiated next year.

AgustaWestland's Yeovil plant
This is an excellent step forward and opens up good opportunities in the medium and long term for the factory in Yeovil
Colin Rose, Unison

The US Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security are also reported to be searching for a supplier for about 200 helicopters.

The rotors and part of the transmission system for the new choppers will be built at Agusta's Yeovil plant - where 4,000 people work - with much of the rest of production in the US and Italy.

"The US101 secures jobs in Yeovil over the next few years," said Mr Johnston.

Colin Rose, regional officer for Unison, added: "This is an excellent step forward and opens up good opportunities in the medium and long term for the factory in Yeovil."

Agusta and its partners beat US company Sikorsky, which had built the Marine One helicopter for the last 50 years, to the deal.

British ownership

A spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "Although this will be a US-produced helicopter - Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor - it is based on a proven European, AgustaWestland design bringing benefits to the US and the UK."

The three-engine EH101 is already in service in the UK, Canada, Italy, Denmark and Japan.

Last autumn, the government gave the go-ahead for the sale of AgustaWestland, ending British ownership in the helicopter industry.

The company was half-owned by engineering group GKN and its Italian partner Finmeccanica, which bought GKN out for more than 1bn.

The company is still waiting on news of the Future Lynx contract.

Sikorsky's VH-92 Super Hawk and Lockheed's US101 helicopter
Engines: 2
Cruising speed:
282 k/hr (175mph)
Main rotor diameter:
17m (56ft)
Based on:
Sikorsky's S-92
Engines: 3
Cruising speed:
278 km/h (173 mph)
Main rotor diameter:
18.6m (61ft)
Based on:
AgustaWestland's EH101

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