American Eurocopter celebrated a milestone Thursday at its Lowndes County plant.
The nation”s leading provider of helicopters — civilian and military — delivered its 100th Lakota light-utility helicopter to the U.S. Army.
“Delivering our commitments to the U.S. Army has been the industry team”s No. 1 priority since being selected for the Lakota program in June 2006,” said Sean O”Keefe, EADS North America CEO. “Our performance of 100 percent on-time deliveries reflects an unwavering commitment to fully support our customers” current and future needs.”
O”Keefe attributes the on-schedule deliveries — the U.S. Army and National Guard has ordered 345 Lakotas to be delivered through 2016 — to a “close-knit team objective.”
Fred Gerard, director of production at the Lowndes County plant, also noted the initial team who began transferring production from the EADS plant in Germany to Lowndes County worked as a “family.”
American Eurocopter is a subsidiary of EADS North America, whose parent company is the European EADS.
Marc Paganini, president and CEO of American Eurocopter, touted the company”s completion of a new plant in less than a year. The company also has trained more than 500 pilots for the U.S. Army, Paganini noted.
“This is a great day — a great day for our Army, a great day for our country,” said Brig. Gen. Tim Crosby, program executive officer for the U.S. Army.
Crosby, who accepted the keys to the UH-72A light-utility Lakota helicopter, also noted it was a “great day for the people of the state of Mississippi.”
The more than 90 Lakotas in use by the U.S. Army have maintained a nearly zero-percent mishap rate, Crosby noted.
“I can tell you the Lakota has already become the cornerstone of the United States Army”s aviation fleet,” he added.
Another five UH-72A helicopters have been delivered to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Paxtuxent River in Maryland.
The flight vehicles are primarily are used as MEDEVACs for search and rescue, drug interdiction, VIP transport and other non-combat missions.
The Lakota takes its name from the Native American tribe with a legacy as firm and resolute defenders of their homeland.
American Eurocopter has two sites in the U.S. — a site in Texas specializing on customization, repair, training, engineering, marketing and sale. The Lowndes County site is focused on production. It takes the production line about five months to complete one Lakota helicopter.
The local plant — housed at the Lowndes County 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.
Since then, the company has been able to tap into the local worker pool, hiring and training employees who had little to no prior experience in the field. They also have formed a partnership with East Mississippi Community College for workforce training.
The plant currently employs 276 people; by the end of 2010, Gerard expects the company to bring the number up to 320.
This year promises to be the biggest production year for American Eurocopter. In 2006, when the Lowndes County plant completed its first helicopter, it delivered two of the choppers. By 2007, it had ramped up production to 16 helicopters; in 2008, the company delivered 36; in 2009, it delivered 45. By the end of this year, the company will have delivered 53 helicopters.
And Gov. Haley Barbour predicts a long-standing relationship between the state and EADS.
“I see this facility growing leaps and bounds in years to come,” said Barbour. “As we see more growth here, we also see more growth from EADS North America in our state.”
Currently, the plant is operating to meet the needs of the U.S. Army through the duration of its contract. However, Gerard noted the facility was built with options for expansion.
AMERICAN EUROCOPTER BY THE NUMBERS
- 220,000: Square footage of Lowndes plant
- 5: Average number of aircraft produced each month
- 45: Number of aircraft produced in 2009
- 53: Number of aircraft to be produced this year
- 276: Number of current employees
- 320: Projected number of workers by end of 2010