COLUMBUS, Miss. (WTVA) -- Gov. Phil Bryant joined state and local leaders and officials from American Eurocopter Thursday to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary of operations in Columbus as well as for a rally in support of the company’s UH-72A “Lakota” Light Utility Helicopter program.
“First, I’d like to congratulate American Eurocopter on 10 successful years in Columbus,” Gov. Bryant said. “The company has been a valued member of Mississippi’s business community providing invaluable services for our country, and I wish the American Eurocopter team many more years of success in our state.”
Manufactured at American Eurocopter’s Columbus facility, the Lakota helicopter is produced for the Army and Army National Guard for use in active duty and homeland security missions.
The Lakota program, cited by the U.S. Department of Defense as a model defense acquisition program, is one of the most cost-effective, successful rotary wing aircraft programs in recent history.
In Fiscal Year 2014, plans called for the Army to order 31 Lakotas.
Another 10 were to be ordered in Fiscal Year 2015.
President Obama’s recent fiscal 2014 Budget Request to the U.S. Congress drastically reduces those figures.
The proposal calls for 10 Lakota helicopters to be ordered in 2014 and none in 2015, which would effectively end the program.
“Additionally, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Mississippi Army National Guard, I firmly believe the proposal to decrease funding of the Lakota helicopter program was made in haste. During a time when our country is in dire financial crisis, I understand cuts must be made to alleviate some of the strain on the national debt. However, it is counterproductive for the Department of Defense to cancel this cost-effective, successful program, as every helicopter produced here has been delivered on time and on budget,” Bryant said.
President and Chief Executive of American Eurocopter Marc Paganini said the proposed budget cuts “are especially disappointing because the Lakota program has been a model of success, meeting the U.S. Army’s needs for a light utility helicopter with speed, range, endurance and performance. Every aircraft has been delivered on time, on budget and meeting all of the Army’s quality requirements,” Paganini said.
The Army and Guard National have applauded the capabilities and performance of the Lakota, which has been assigned to numerous bases and missions across the country.
Aircrews have flown search and rescue, medical evacuation and personnel and cargo transport missions.
National Guard crews have highly praised the aircraft’s performance in missions flown on the U.S.-Mexico border conducting surveillance for drug and human trafficking.
“Our customer, the U.S. Army, is pleased with our work,” Paganini said. “We have provided an aircraft that performs every day with a more than 90 percent availability rate. That is unheard of across other Army aviation platforms. A total of 267 aircraft have been delivered on or ahead of schedule.”
In 2004, American Eurocopter opened the modern facility in the Golden Triangle region of northeast Mississippi to accommodate its expanding U.S. presence and growing business volume.
The facility is the production site for the U.S. Army's UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter, and it also builds AS350 B2 and B3 AStar helicopters for a wide range of customers.
The plant also performs the assembly and customization of a wide range of other Eurocopter helicopter models and manufactures components for use on all new-production helicopters.
The Columbus facility was inaugurated in 2004 with a staff of 44 and an initial 92,000 square feet of facilities for helicopter assembly and administrative offices.
In 2006-2007, the facility was expanded to a total covered area of 325,000 square feet to accommodate the UH-72A program, incorporating the Lakota's assembly hall, flight line, paint shop, warehouse, administrative offices, flight operations and flight test engineering.
The U.S. Army has an initial requirement for 345 UH-72As, with other customers expected to add to the total number of aircraft produced.