Leonardo's four-year wait on helicopter assembly line over at last

Construction on the military and civilian helicopter assembly unit near Ain Arnat airport, the combined work of Italian group Leonardo and the Algerian army, is finally underway. Italian defence giant Leonardo's deal with Algeria's Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP) to create a local helicopter assembly line is finally about to get off the ground. The site near the Sétif International Airport, aka Ain Arnat, where the unit is to be built, and where the ANP already has a helicopter training unit, has been awash with workers in recent weeks. They have started construction of the 11-building complex designed by Italian firms Incide and AICOM that once complete will be able to assemble around 10 helicopters at a time. Incide has worked with Italy's defence contractors in the past. Leonardo signed the deal in 2016, coming out ahead of Airbus Helicopters (former Eurocopter), which had only proposed the opening of a maintenance unit (Africa Intelligence, 15/09/16), but the project was almost immediately put on ice. It was not until June 2019 and the fall of Bouteflika's regime that the joint venture Leonardo Hélicoptères Algérie opened its doors. This is chaired by General Mouloud Belhadj, head of the Etablissement de Développement des Industries Aéronautiques, and run by Benjamin Farina, the North Africa sales director for AgustaWestland. Neither the death of the former ANP chief of staff Ahmed Gaïd Salah in December nor the firing of air force commander Hamid Boumaïza in mid-June seem to have slowed the project. However, it is unlikely the facility will be able to assemble its first helicopter by the last quarter of 2021 as Leonardo would like. The aircraft to be built by the facility, ranging from light AW169 models to the medium-lift aircraft AW101 and AW139, as well as its latest military version the AW149, will be deployed to the ANP, national and regional police forces and civilian security. It remains to be seen whether this joint industrial project will help Leonardo fulfil its greater goal of working with the ANP. For some time, the Italian group had high hopes of being able to place two "white tail" C-27J Spartan intelligence aircraft, ones that it begun had manufacturing without a firm order (Africa Intelligence, 20/12/18). The "rescue" of a contract for three highly-sophisticated spy aircraft from American firm Raytheon, however, dashed the Italians' hopes. © Copyright Africa Intelligence. Reproduction and dissemination prohibited (Intranet...) without written permission.


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