By Andrea Shalal
BERLIN (Reuters) – The German military needs dozens of new light helicopters to cover shortfalls in flight hours for pilot training and carry out other missions, a new study completed by the German army found, according to sources familiar with the document.
The report, which has not been publicly released, concluded that the various military services needed about 70 to 80 new light helicopters, according to the sources, but no decisions about a procurement programme have been made.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen hinted at potential new orders of light helicopters during a visit to a helicopter air base last month, but gave no details.
The study could eventually lead to dozens of new orders for the H145M light utility helicopter built by European aircraft maker Airbus, which has already supplied 15 of the helicopters to German special forces, the sources said.
The helicopters already delivered were performing well, and had been delivered on cost and on time, they said, noting that the U.S. military operates more than 400 of an earlier model.
A ministry spokesman confirmed completion of the internal study and said it would be used for further planning, but declined to provide any details.
“This is an internal planning document that provides a good basis for further analysis and discussions,” the spokesman said.
Airbus had no comment on the internal army report.
A company spokesman said the H145M military helicopter, derived from the Airbus H145 commercial workhorse used by police and emergency medical services, had also been ordered or was being operated by Serbia, Thailand, Hungary and Luxembourg.
“Mission readiness of the German air force’s H145M is above 99 percent, the fleet has accumulated more than 8,000 flight hours since the delivery of first aircraft in 2015,” the Airbus spokesman said.
Hans-Peter Bartels, the military ombudsman for the German parliament, has repeatedly called attention to the urgent need for more helicopters to cover shortfalls in flight hours for pilots across the German military, or Bundeswehr.
“Wherever the Bundeswehr has helicopters, there are shortages of flight hours,” he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Catherine Evans)