Airbus Helicopters took the first step Thursday is securing a new contract for UH-72 Lakota light utility helicopters that may ensure the viability of the Lowndes County facility that assembles the aircraft.
Company officials announced it has responded to a U.S. Army “sources sought” notice for bids on 28 new helicopters. Congress approved $187 million for the purchase of helicopters.
Although bids are open to all manufacturers, Airbus officials believe the company’s track record in supplying UH-72s to the U.S. Army puts them in a favorable position.
The company, in a press release, said it has delivered more than 400 UH-72s to the Army since 2006.
The company said previous denied requests from the Army for more helicopters had put the Lowndes County facility — located at the industrial park off Highway 82 west of Columbus — in a precarious position.
Although company officials were not available for comment, the company released a statement noting the importance of landing the new contract to the local facility, which assembles the helicopters.
“Significant obstacles have been laid in the Army’s past efforts to meet its requirements for more Lakotas, and those obstacles have in turn jeopardized the livelihoods of all the American workers who build the Lakota in Mississippi,” the statement said. “That workforce — more than 40 percent of whom are U.S. military veterans — ended 2017 wondering if the New Year would bring them unemployment. A new contract for them would mean they can continue to build on their unbroken record of on-time, on-cost deliveries to the Army. As long as our customer has a need for Lakotas, our workers stand ready to build them.”
Opened in 2004, the Lowndes County facility produces the H125 commercial helicopter and UH-72A Lakotas. In addition, the plant handles the assembly and customization of other Airbus Helicopters models and also manufactures components for use on new-production helicopters.
In 2006-07, the Lowndes County facility was expanded to a total covered area of 325,000 square feet for the UH-72A program, incorporating the Lakota assembly line, flight line, paint shop, warehouse, administrative offices, flight operations and flight test engineering. Airbus Columbus was awarded a $222.5 million contract in 2015 to build and assemble 41 UH-72s for the Army.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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