The UK government must commit to a future military helicopter procurement programme for Leonardo to sustain its Yeovil production facility, a senior company official told reporters in early July.
Speaking ahead of the Farnborough Airshow, the managing director of Leonardo Helicopters UK, Geoff Munday, said the facility’s current AW159 Lynx Wildcat and AW101 Merlin lines will need to be followed by a new type to guarantee the long-term viability of the production site in southern England.
“In 2016 Leonardo signed a special partnering agreement with the Ministry of Defence [MoD], but there was no commitment to buy or to undertake any future programmes. It is up to the government to decide what [future programme to launch], but we as a company need a commitment from them before we can commit to Yeovil,” Munday said.
Munday would not be drawn on what form future procurements might take, but he did note that an early commitment to the Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System (RWUAS) unmanned helicopter programme for the Royal Navy could fit the bill. “A RWUAS commitment that could come in the next 12 months would help,” he said. While appealing for a government commitment to Yeovil, Munday was keen to stress that his comments do not amount to an ultimatum of ‘invest, or Leonardo pulls out’, noting that, “We are not in the business of saying, ‘Do this by date X or we are leaving’.”
With AW159 export orders for South Korea and the Philippines, and AW101 orders for Norway still to be satisfied, Munday said Yeovil currently has work “well into 2020”, and that this could be extended with further orders expected. For Leonardo Helicopters UK, the issue is more one of design and development of future platforms than it is of straightforward production.
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