Government launches tender for helicopter fleet that could create hundreds of NW jobs

Airbus H157M helicopter

Aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, has welcomed the launch of a Ministry of Defence (MoD) tender process to provide a new type of helicopter.

If successful, Airbus says it could create hundreds of jobs at its Broughton factory, near Chester, which currently employs around 4,500 staff making wings for all its commercial aircraft.

The MoD has formally invited tenders for 44 New Medium Helicopters (NMH), to replace its current fleet of Puma helicopters, from the middle of the decade.

The contract will include the provision of training, and a maintenace and spares package.

Specifications reveal the new fleet must be able to accommodate two aircrew, and rear crew, as well as simulation training devices.

The MoD’s aim is to rationalise its existing fleet into one platform type, maximising commonality to improve efficiency and operational flexibility.

The contract duration is anticipated to be seven years.

A tweet by the aircraft manufacturer in response to the tender process said: “Hugely excited to see UK #NewMediumHelicopter #NMH competition launched. If selected, the #H175M, produced at Broughton by @AirbusHeli will support thousands of jobs in UK aerospace, generate meaningful helicopter exports, and revitalise the nation’s helicopter industry.”

When the contract was first mooted last September, Airbus said, if it won the tender, it would build a new assembly line at Broughton, creating hundreds of jobs manufacturing helicopters. The new line could be in operation within 12 months of a contract being signed.

In a statement last September, the company said: “Airbus Helicopters in the UK is aware of the Government’s intention to retire the Airbus Puma HC2 medium helicopter fleet, along with certain other types, in the middle of this decade and to seek a replacement known as the New Medium Helicopter.

“While we await the issue by the Ministry of Defence of its formal specification, we firmly believe the Airbus H175M is fully capable of fulfilling the UK’s NMH needs and of becoming a sustainable UK export product with the potential to resurrect the capacity and capability of the UK’s helicopter industry, in part through the creation of a new helicopter plant at the existing Airbus commercial aircraft site in Broughton.

“The civil variant of the H175 is by far the most capable super medium aircraft on the market, with 26 already in daily North Sea operation off the coast of the UK, and excellent export prospects for the proposed military variant.

“We look forward to taking part in the competition to provide the NMH and if successful we are ready to invest substantially in the UK to create an advanced new helicopter manufacturing/assembly facility directly employing many skilled Airbus workers and sustaining hundreds more jobs in the wider UK supply chain.

“This activity would support the Government’s levelling up agenda and create an attractive exportable product capable of serving military customers worldwide.

“Our plan would seek to establish a H175M Final Assembly Line in an existing facility on the commercial wing manufacturing plant’s footprint at Broughton. We would also transfer a number of key high value component manufacturing capabilities to the UK supply chain. We would emphasise our demonstrable track record of making long term, high value investments in the UK.”

Earlier this month Airbus announced plans to create up to 550 jobs at Broughton as part of a £100m investment.

The boost for the site is linked to plans announced in January this year to recruit around 6,000 staff group-wide in response to strong signs of recovery post-COVID in the aerospace industry, and linked to the group’s plans to prepare the future of aviation and implement its roadmap for decarbonisation.