February 5, 2015 / 11:19 PM / 3 years ago

Sikorsky sees spike in helicopter demand from Eastern Europe

WASHINGTON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp, is seeing a big spike in demand for its UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Eastern Europe, a top company executive said on Thursday.

Several Eastern European countries have already submitted a formal request for the aircraft to the U.S. government, Samir Mehta, president of Sikorsky Defense Systems & Services, told reporters at the company’s Washington office.

Mehta said demand for the popular workhorse utility helicopters was being driven by continued tensions with Russia and growing concerns in countries in the region about suppliers for their existing Russian-built helicopters.

“In Eastern Europe, we’re seeing a renewed sense of urgency around acquiring Western equipment,” Mehta said.

He said Slovakia was one country that had expressed interest, but did not name other potential buyers.

Mehta said increasing calls to provide weapons to Ukraine could also result in new orders but said discussions were being held on a government-to-government basis.

One option, he said, would be to rebuild older-model Black Hawks that are being taken out of inventory by the U.S. Army. Mehta said it would take about a year to upgrade such older Black Hawks for use by foreign countries.

President Barack Obama will decide soon whether to provide Kiev with lethal weapons to fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday. {ID:nL6N0VF5FY]

Sikorsky is looking to foreign sales and other opportunities to offset the end of U.S. orders for its Black Hawks. The Pentagon’s fiscal 2016 budget plan includes funding for the final year of a multiyear production contract.

Last year, Sikorsky won contracts for several major new programs, including a combat rescue helicopter for the Air Force and a presidential helicopter for the Navy. But those projects are still in development and will not contribute as much to revenues as production of existing aircraft for some time.

Mehta welcomed the U.S. government’s announcement Wednesday of a two-year project aimed at making it easier for NATO and member countries to share costs and buy weapons as a group as they struggle to stretch scarce defense budgets.

He said the initiative could help smaller countries in Eastern Europe by aggregating their orders to drive down prices. It would also help lower the cost of maintaining aircraft by spreading the cost over a large number of planes, he said. (Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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