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Eurocopter rings in new year with new contract


Garthia Elena Burnett



EADS North America started the new year with a contract to build 12 more UH-72A light utility "Lakota" helicopters for the U.S. Army at Columbus'' American Eurocopter plant. 


The order is the second phase of a $169 million contract for 32 Lakotas. EADS anticipates an additional order of up to 12 helicopters this year. 


To date, EADS and American Eurocopter have delivered 146 UH-72A helicopters to the Army and five to the Navy. 


The U.S. Army and National Guard has ordered a total of 345 Lakotas to be delivered through 2016. 


"Deliveries are ongoing," explained Tim Paynter, senior manager of corporate communications for EADS North America in Alrlington, Va. "We typically deliver anywhere from one to four or five helicopters per month, depending on production schedules and when the Army units can physically take custody of the new helicopters." 


In October 2010, EADS received a $67 million contract to put a unique security and support communication system into helicopters for National Guard units. 


The order is the first phase of a $152 million contract; it covers 36 of the packages, and EADS anticipates a total of 99 packages. These additions also will be made at the Columbus American Eurocopter plant. 


"Some of the helicopters are already produced and will be retrofitted," Paynter explained. Others will be fitted with the equipment during production. 


The communication packages will allow Guard units to operate "seamlessly" with local law enforcement units during disaster response. 


Aircraft production has transitioned completely from Europe to the U.S., Paynter noted. 


"The entire aircraft is produced at the facility from start to finish," he said. 


Pilot and mechanic training is handled in Grand Prairie, Texas, at American Eurocopter''s second site. 


The site in Texas specializes in customization, repair, training, engineering, marketing and sale. The Lowndes County site is focused on production. 


The Lakota takes its name from the Native American tribe with a legacy as firm and resolute defenders of their homeland. 


The local plant -- housed at the Golden Triangle Regional Aerospace Industrial Park, neighboring the Golden Triangle Regional Airport -- began with a handful of technicians, who were sent to Germany to be trained to teach other techs. The plant now employs 324 workers. 


"This particular program has been repeatedly sited as -- not just in the Army but at the DoD''s (Department of Defense''s) top five most successful programs," Paynter added, attributing the success to the local workforce.




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