Ukraine aiming to buy 55 French Airbus helicopters

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Ukraine’s National Police, National Guard and State Border Guard officers may soon be taking to the sky to carry out rescues, patrol, or chase miscreants.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has signed a letter of intent on the purchase of 55 helicopters from Airbus Helicopters, a branch of Europe’s main commercial aircraft producer Airbus, based in France.

The ministry plans to launch its first ever helicopter support service in 2020. Police helicopter squads are also to start patrolling across the whole of Ukraine in two years.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Jean-Yves Le Drian, French minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs signed the letter of intent between Ukraine and France in Kyiv on March 23.

“This is one of the most ambitious projects in Ukrainian-French cooperation for now,” Avakov said. “I hope we will get the first helicopters by the end of 2018.”

Le Drian said the Airbus helicopter project was a very important step to further economic cooperation between Ukraine and France.

“France has been a steady supporter of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and stands for peace all over Ukraine,” Le Drian added.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry is planning to buy the H225, H145, and H125 Airbus helicopter models. Guillaume Steuer, the head of News & Media Relations at Airbus Helicopters, refused to comment on the upcoming purchase or disclose the prices of the helicopters, saying this was against the policy of the company.

However, various aircraft sales websites list the Airbus models wanted by the Interior Ministry at $2.2 million for a used aircraft, and $2.9 million for a new one, potentially making the future deal worth up to $160 million.

“It’s not a done deal yet. But the letter of intent means that both countries have started active cooperation and negotiations. We in the ministry know that we need 55 Airbus helicopters for our aircraft fleet,” Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesman Artem Shevchenko told the Kyiv Post. “And if you look at this years’ state budget, you’ll see that we can afford to buy them.”

Indeed, in comparison with 2017, when spending was Hr 129 billion ($4.9 billion), spending on the army, police and special services in 2018 in Ukraine is expected to be on average 28 percent higher.

The Interior Ministry won a budget increase of 20 percent, to Hr 65.9 billion ($2.4 billion). Some Hr 9.3 billion ($344 million) was allocated to the State Border Service, while the National Guard and the National Police got Hr 10.9 billion ($403 million) and Hr 24.4 billion ($902.8 million) respectively.

Faster, higher, lighter

Shevchenko said Ukraine’s Interior Ministry needs approximately 55 helicopters to augment its present fleet mostly consisting of Sovietera Mi8 and Mi2 helicopters. However, he couldn’t say exactly how many helicopters Ukraine’s security forces have at their disposal now.

Shevchenko said that the Airbus was chosen for their helicopters’ quality, “the best reputation in the market,” and a stock of ready-to-use choppers.

As for the specific models, the State Emergency Service and border guards will get the Airbus H225 – the 11-ton, twin-turbine aircrafts that can transport up to 19 passengers for long distances and are suitable for rescue operations.

Meanwhile, the single-engine Airbus H125 will be used for the State Border Guard’s patrolling needs, as is can be flown in a mountainous zone, making patrolling in Ukrainian Carpathians more effective, Shevchenko said.

Currently, the State Border Guard is using nine light planes made by Austrian company Diamond to patrol the Ukrainian border and 10 old Mi-8 helicopters for transportation, according to spokesperson Oleh Slobodyan.

These older helicopters will still be in use after the Airbus choppers arrive, according to Shevchenko. The National Police will get 10 Airbus H145s, a compact fourton, twin-engine helicopter capable of working in extreme weather conditions.

In 2020, after getting the copters, the police plan to create a special helicopter support squad, National Police Chief Serhiy Knyazev said on March 28. The helicopters will patrol the airspace of Ukrainian cities, highways and towns, according to Knyazev.

Six police helicopter squads will be placed in different parts of Ukraine to cover the whole country. The police will start recruiting helicopter pilots this summer.

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