Italy has been selected as the preferred partner-nation to replace the 19 flyable SA.316/319‚ ALOUETTE III helicopters stationed at the inner-alpine Aigen-im-Ennstal air base of the Austrian Air Force. Leonardo‘s AW169M has therefore beaten competition from the Bell-Textron Bell 429 and Airbus-Helicopters H145M, respectively the proposals by the governments of the USA and Germany, which were submitted in response to an RFI first issued in 2017.
According to Austrian acquisition officials, who wish not to be named, the main issue against the Bell 429 was that, while the bid and Austrian programme partners were fully backed by the US authorities, there are no Bell 429s under contract for US-services. While nothing of substance has legally been judged, Vienna’s MoD still claims to have been cheated by EADS with the Tranche One EUROFIGHTER TYPHOON when this type was purchased in 2002/3 and still want’s to retire the type after 13 successful years of operations, clouding relations with Airbus.
No military equipment such as ballistic or EW self-protection requested by the Austrians is yet known, since all the LUH-types in consideration are civil designs. Another issue is the fact that the Austrian Air Force requires a skid-gear for the selected type, with which there is only one test-aircraft flying at Leonardo. The AW169B for Italian type-conversion training, as well as the 22 aircraft of the Italian Guardia di Finanza, are equipped with a wheeled gear. So far, only 15 projected AW169M for the Aviazione dell’Esercito will have skids and are to be introduced in 2022/23.
Since the AW169 is more than one ton in terms of MTOW and expected life-cycle-costs are above the others, this selection seems financially overdrawn to replace the ALOUTTE III. The officially confirmed €300m earmarked for the acquisition faces an extra budgetary challenge in the form of official plans to allocate six of the 18 aircraft to the Austrian Air Force’s flying school at Langenlebarn for basic rotary training. On the other hand, the service fears the political implications of not getting a replacement for the 23-40 year old AB-212s. Thus, the new AW169, together with 12 S-70 BLACK HAWKs might remain the only remaining Austrian Air Force rotary assets in the medium term.