Airbus sees market for hundreds of H160Ms outside France

Avatar for Dan ParsonsBy Dan Parsons | December 1, 2021

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 14 seconds.

Airbus has set an ambitious sales goal for the militarized H160M helicopter, projecting that hundreds of the medium twin could enter service in Europe and elsewhere over the next two decades. 

France is expected to finalize a deal for up to 180 H160M helicopters for its army, navy and air force by the end of the year. Beyond that, Airbus expects to sell as many as 400 helicopters through 2030, according to Matthieu Louvot, executive vice president of Airbus Helicopters programs. 

The Airbus Helicopters H160 was selected in 2017 for the French HIL program. Airbus Photo

“We think, until 2030, the market beyond France could be 400 helicopters. So, very significant,” Louvot said Nov. 30 during a trade media briefing broadcast from Munich, Germany. “We think another 400 could be ordered by different nations around the world based on the fleets they have, the capabilities they could request.”

France has laid out plans to purchase at least 169 H165Ms, which it calls the “Guepard” — French for cheetah — and plans to sign a contract to formalize the Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger (HIL) or joint light helicopter, program with Airbus by the end of the year. The HIL aircraft, for which the H160M was selected in 2017, is scheduled to enter service and begin replacing five different light attack helicopters currently in use by 2026.

“We are progressing in the right direction and it should be hopefully soon, but it’s not my call entirely, otherwise it would be over already,” Louvot said when asked if the French contract was still on track to be signed before the new year. Louvot did not specify which countries outside France are targets for H160M sales. 

Beyond France, the H160 has been floated as a potential replacement for the British Ministry of Defence’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement, which will replace the Royal Air Force fleet of 23 Airbus Puma HC2 support helicopters beginning in 2025. Airbus’s own H215M has direct lineage with the current Puma and the larger H225M Super Puma is another potential offering for the U.K. program. Airbus also sees the H175M, a militarized version of the H175, as an ideal candidate for the U.K.’s emerging requirement.

Leonardo Helicopters is also shopping its AW149 for Britain’s NMH program. 

Though a military aircraft, the H160M owes its design and capabilities to the civil H160, which gained certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2020 but is still waiting for the validation of that approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The first delivery of a civil H160 is to a U.S. customer, making the FAA’s seal of approval all the more valuable, but travel restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented FAA personnel from visiting Airbus’s headquarters in Marignane, France.

Still, Louvot said the program is “well progressing” and that the H160M will benefit from the development, certification and looming entry to service of its civil counterpart.

“The H160M both leverages on all the advantages of the civil 160 machine and brings in all the new generation of sensors, of mission systems, of communication systems that you would expect from the state-of-the-art latest generation military helicopter,” Louvot said. “Most important for military missions, the autopilot alleviates the workload of the pilot and allows him to focus on the mission. And it’s a key advantage in many difficult environments where military customers fly. So, all these key advantages of the 160 platform will be carried on to the 160M and of course it will embed latest generation military sensors and mission systems.”

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