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The Austrian Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner officially announced on September 21, 2020 that the Federal Army will order 18 AW169M helicopters from Leonardo in Italy. This is intended to replace the 50-year-old Alouette III that has reached the end of its life.

With a volume of 300 million euros, the helicopter order is the most expensive individual project since the purchase of the Eurofighter. With the procurement of the Eurofighter in 2002, a dispute began about selection, procurement decisions and possible bribe payments, which has not yet been resolved and which could have had an impact on the helicopter decision. Insiders suspect that the H145M offered by Airbus was not used because of Tanner's personal aversion, as was the Bell 249. Both helicopters are smaller and lighter than the AW169M and have lower operating costs.

Austria enters into a cooperation with Italy to operate the helicopters together. That is also the reason, according to Tanner, why there was no award procedure. Such a cooperation could not be agreed in time with Germany and the USA. The next step is the negotiation of the supply contract with Leonardo, which should be concluded within six months.

In addition to the delivery of the helicopters, the order to Leonardo will include technical support for the introduction and operation as well as training of the pilots. In addition, there is the adaptation of the infrastructure.

Twelve helicopters are planned for operational flight operations. Minister Tanner praised the helicopter's suitability for disaster operations. It can also be used for military purposes. The remaining six aircraft are primarily intended for pilot training. A simulator is also provided for this, in which the pilots are to be trained in cooperation before the arrival of the first helicopter. The full simulator equipment should be available from 2026.

The first AW169M are to be delivered to the troops from 2022. The sixth and last training helicopter should be delivered in mid-2023. The delivery of the helicopters should be completed in mid-2024. The start of operational flight operations with an initial qualification is scheduled for the beginning of 2024. The helicopter fleet is expected to be fully operational after 2026.

The AW169 has been in use by civil companies and police forces since it was approved in 2015. After being introduced to the Guardia di Finaza, the military version AW169M has been in test use with Italian army aviators under the designation UH-169B since July 2020. The aim is to define and procure a light support helicopter (LUH). The retractable landing gear of the AW169M has been replaced by a skid landing gear and special mission equipment has been scaffolded. Key words here are: Rescue service (SAR & CASEVAC), special forces, air reconnaissance, weapon systems and self-protection.

With a takeoff weight of less than five tons, the helicopter with around two tons of payload reaches a cruising speed of 268 km / h and a service ceiling of 4.5 km. Two Pratt & Wittney with 810 kW each are controlled via a fully digital 2-channel FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control). Up to eleven passengers can be transported around 860 km by the two-man crew without a stopover.

Gerhard Heiming