January 23, 2014 10:38:46 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Compromise in the nation's capital will lead to more Lakotas being assembled in Columbus than previously forecasted.
Cuts to production of the military aircraft had been included as part of a proposed $50 million in budget reductions to the U.S. Department of Defense. Had that been passed into law, only 10 new UH-72A helicopters would have been built this year. The aircraft has been assembled at American Eurocopter's Columbus plant since 2006. The budget package ultimately passed by Congress, though, provides for production of 20 Lakotas this year.
Coupled with an assembly line upgrade announced last September that will boost production of AS350 helicopters, this is good news for employees, said American Eurocopter President and Chief Executive Marc Paganini.
"It's a vote of confidence by the Army in our company, in our people and in our product," Paganini said. "It is a recognition of the outstanding job the Columbus work force has done in meeting delivery schedules, cost and quality commitments."
The U.S. Army had already ordered six Lakotas late last year with previously committed funds, Senior Manager of Communications Bob Cox said. The budget Congress passed will allow procurement of another 14 this year.
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., credited his Mississippi colleague Thad Cochran for his work to preserve production of the aircraft.
"We think we'll be making helicopters for the entire world there for decades to come," Wicker said. "But in the meantime we didn't need to get cut back to 10 (Lakotas this year)."
Paganini also credited the rallies from military leaders and company employees to make clear the need for production of the Lakota to continue.
"Convincing Congress to fund the Lakota program reflects the hard work of many people, especially the community and state leaders from Mississippi that supported our efforts to restore Lakota funding," Paganini said. "It also reflects the solid support that our employees demonstrated in sending thousands of letters to Congress and by attending the rallies in Columbus and Grand Prairie."
Effective Feb. 1, Cox said American Eurocopter will officially begin operating as Airbus Group, Inc. Parent company EADS has already made the name switch as of the first week of January, Cox said.
American Eurocopter employees had averaged a production of 40 Lakotas annually in recent years.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.