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Fostering competition in the UK's helicopter industry: a pathway to progress

Lenny Brown, Managing Director

Lenny Brown, Managing Director | Airbus Helicopters in the UK

5 min read Partner content

As DSEI 2023 kicks off, Managing Director of Airbus Helicopters in the UK, Lenny Brown, sets out how our helicopter industry can be strengthened domestically and in the global market.

The war in Ukraine has brought into stark relief the role of helicopters in modern warfare. 

From troop transport to destroying grouped enemy armour to providing direct and accurate close air support, Ukraine’s successful utilisation of its helicopter capabilities, combined with Russia’s poor deployment of its own helicopter forces, has been a feature of the war so far.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Governments around the world who are reviewing their own helicopter fleet capabilities, particularly those who had previously signed up for Russia-made helicopters only to see a huge question mark raised over Russia’s ability to support them in future.

Against that backdrop of heightened international interest in helicopters, the UK MoD is currently undertaking The New Medium Helicopter (NMH) programme, an initiative to acquire a modern medium-lift support helicopter, which will serve as a replacement for several existing aircraft currently in operation by the Royal Air Force and British Army.

The winning bidder won’t just replace the current fleet of Airbus Pumas operated by the RAF and the MoD though.

With an export market estimated at nearly 500 aircraft worldwide, there is a real opportunity for the UK to select a helicopter that will provide the country with billions of pounds worth of export potential at a time when dozens of countries around the world are looking to upgrade their existing helicopter fleets.

If Airbus Helicopters in the UK is selected, our offering, the H175M, would be both British made and fully optimised to take advantage of this trade opportunity.

It is a high-capability, low-risk solution with outstanding technical and safety specifications that will provide exceptional value for money, with low through-life costs and requiring minimal training time for pilots.

It would be produced in the UK, creating hundreds of jobs and helping to drive competition and innovation in our indigenous helicopter industry, acting as a catalyst for strong export sales while enhancing the UK’s global reputation.

To date, the UK has successfully exported fewer than 100 helicopters around the world over the last 15 years.

This is no surprise when you consider that the vast majority of our military helicopter capabilities are concentrated in just one factory operating out of one part of the country overwhelmingly reliant on sole-source UK MoD contracts.

Put simply, the NMH tender provides the UK with an opportunity to deliver a fiercely competitive helicopter industry that ensures the best outcomes for our national security, economy, and technological advancement.

The potential for growth in the export sector is enormous with the winning bidder for the NMH programme carrying with it the potential to reinvigorate the UK’s underperforming helicopter industry, enhancing the UK’s global reputation and bringing hundreds of millions of pounds into the UK economy.

A competitive helicopter industry will serve as a catalyst for job creation, fostering an environment that encourages multiple manufacturers and unlocking an array of employment opportunities throughout the supply chain.

This injection of quality jobs will enhance regional economies and contribute to the well-being of our communities, delivering the sort of “levelling up” across multiple regions that the Government has long strived for.

Our H175M Taskforce comprises of some of the most respected names in the aerospace sector, from Boeing Defence UK and Pratt & Whitney Canada to Spirit AeroSystems and Babcock International. Together, we span the length and breadth of the UK, from Belfast in Northern Ireland and Aberdeen in Scotland to Broughton in Wales and Oxford in England.

Everybody knows that competition drives innovation and excellence, resulting in cutting-edge technologies and high-quality products so, with a strong and competitive helicopter industry, UK-based manufacturers can showcase their capabilities to the global market, attracting international customers and securing lucrative export contracts.

Airbus Helicopters in the UK already provides the entirety of the country’s police helicopter fleet, 65% of the air ambulance fleet, and half of the country’s overall civil helicopter fleet. We’re a trusted supplier to the MoD providing and supporting the Puma and Gazelle as well as the Juno/Jupiter fleets on which all UK military pilots are trained.

We’ve also already invested heavily in the UK via our brand new headquarters plant in Oxford which will open next year. Were we to be successful in our bid for the NMH opportunity, we would invest further resources in the country, building a helicopter production facility in North Wales.

Overall, our team would directly create 400 new jobs and, with the H175M being made in Britain, we would support more than 580 British suppliers, over 300 of which are SMEs, bolstering our economy and solidifying the UK's position as a leading aerospace nation.

It is worth noting the overall contribution that all the divisions of Airbus in the UK makes to the UK economy. Airbus directly employs 12,500 people and supports another 79,000 jobs; contributes £7Bn to UK GDP and £1.5Bn to HMRC; annually spends £277M on R&D and supports 695 apprentices. This track record demonstrates Airbus’ commitment to the UK’s aerospace industry and UK prosperity agenda across all nations which the NMH will add further value.

So, when it comes to choosing the right partner for the New Medium Helicopter programme, the UK isn’t just choosing a helicopter - it’s creating a brand-new industrial capability, capable of delivering jobs across the country and securing exports around the world.

By nurturing a competitive market and choosing the H175M, the UK can establish itself as a global leader in the helicopter market generating economic growth, enhancing our trade balance, and helping secure a prosperous future for our nation.

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