MoD set to fire starting gun for helicopter contract

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The Independent Online

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will finally launch the competition for a delayed £10bn-plus helicopter contract at the turn of the year.

Potential bidders, such as US giants Boeing and Sikorsky, have been told by officials that a selection process is being prepared over the next few months.

The contract is for around 60 so-called "medium lift" helicopters, which can carry up to 25 people and would replace ageing Sea King and Puma aircraft, used by the Royal Navy and RAF respectively.

Bidders had expected a competition to start in the first half of this year. However, the MoD has been focusing "on more pressing needs" such as renting helicopters for immediate use in Afghanistan and Iraq, said an industry source. Helicopters manufactured under the contract would not be ready until 2015.

The source added: "We have been led to believe that the process will restart soon. There was a preliminary consultation about six months ago."

Other bidders are expected to include EADS, through its Euro- copter division, and AgustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian group.

The contract will be worth more than £10bn as it will include maintenance fees over the length of a management contract as well as the capital cost.

An MoD spokeswoman said: "Our aim is to ensure a future helicopter fleet that has the right mix of numbers, capability and platform types, to support current operations and future requirements. The Future Medium Helicopter project is currently in its concept phase."