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Eurocopter Eyes Making Choppers in Russia

    Friday, October. 24, 2003
    The Moscow Times
    Eurocopter, the world's leading helicopter company, is in talks with Irkut to assemble its choppers in Russia to tap the country's booming oil and gas services market, a Eurocopter spokesman said Thursday. "We are negotiating with Irkut, but nothing is signed yet," the spokesman, Jean-Louis Espes, said by phone from his company's headquarters near Marseille, France.
    Eurocopter is a subsidiary of European aerospace giant EADS.
    Alexei Fyodorov, president of the Irkutsk-based Irkut Corp., which makes Sukhoi fighter jets as well as special-mission craft, said Irkut is also interested in eventually producing Eurocopter parts here to save costs.
    Irkut wants to assemble Eurocopter's single-engine EC 120 and twin-engine EC 130 light models, both sides said.
    Although no deal has been reached yet, Fyodorov said Irkut is already talking with potential customers, primarily oil and gas companies that have to service production facilities in harsh and remote locations. He put current demand for helicopters like the EC 120 and EC 130 at about 100.
    The EC 120, known as the Colibri, can carry up to four passengers and a pilot up to 728 kilometers, while the EC 130 seats eight and has a range of 640 kilometers. Eurocopter says both models, which retail for between $1.2 million and $2 million, are suitable for a wide range of civilian and "para-public" uses.
    Up to now, nonmilitary helicopter production in Russia has been virtually nonexistent.
    Moscow-based Kamov unveiled its Ka-226 model in 1997, but the craft, which has a load limit of 1.3 tons, was only recently certified and has yet to go into mass production. The company plans to make its first commercial delivery, to Gazprom, next year.
    The Kazan Helicopter Plant, or KVZ, makes the nine-seat, 520-kilometer Ansat, but the craft is still in testing, although the company expects certification by the end of the year. KVZ plans to produce 10 Ansats next year, and is also looking at selling licenses to produce it abroad.
    Another project that Eurocopter was involved in is Euromil, a three-way venture with KVZ and Moscow's Mil that was set up in 1994 to develop, produce and market the Mi-38 multipurpose medium-lift chopper, an heir to the Mi-8 workhorse.
    Espes said Eurocopter finalized the sale of its 33 percent stake in Euromil last week, but that it would stick with the project through the helicopter's maiden voyage in December and then decide whether or not to continue its involvement.
    Eurocopter announced it was swelling its stake in Euromil earlier this year, citing the government's reluctance to lift the 25 percent cap on foreign ownership and the restrictions on foreign management in the aviation industry.
    Euromil director Vladimir Yablokov said the company will keep its name.
    EADS is also helping Irkut in its competition with U.S. giant Lockheed Martin for an upcoming French contract for two craft to help fight forest fires.
    Irkut's Be-200, which can hold 12 tons of water and retails for between $25 million and $30 million, is pitted against Lockheed's C-130 Hercules, which has been around for nearly half a century.
    Irkut also plans to develop the Yak-130 combat trainer and a range of unmanned aerial vehicles after completing its merger with the Yakovlev Design Bureau next year.

    Lyuba Pronina
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