AW101 Flies off With Norway’s SAR Helicopter Competition

NAWSARH AW101 concept

NAWSARH concept
(click to view larger)

Maintenance agreement with Kongsberg.

November 28/17: Accident A Leonardo Helicopters AW-101 search and rescue (SAR) helicopter recently delivered to Norway overturned during a ground run on 24 October. No injuries were sustained to the two crew onboard at the time of the accident, but the helicopter itself was spotted on its side, sans its main rotor blades. The AW101 was scheduled to enter service in Norway in 2018 so the incident is a setback to Oslo’s replacement of its ageing SAR fleet.


For more on this and other stories, please consider purchasing a membership.
If you are already a subscriber, login to your account.
NH90 NFH: Out (click to view full) In September 2001, the NH90 medium helicopter was chosen as the common helicopter for the Nordic Standard Helicopter Programme, serving the navies of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Norway’s share was up to 24 machines: 14 NFH naval variants (6 for Norwegian ships and 8 for the coastguard), with […]

NH90 NFH Profile Left

NH90 NFH: Out
(click to view full)

In September 2001, the NH90 medium helicopter was chosen as the common helicopter for the Nordic Standard Helicopter Programme, serving the navies of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Norway’s share was up to 24 machines: 14 NFH naval variants (6 for Norwegian ships and 8 for the coastguard), with an option for 10 more Search & Rescue machines. The follow-on SAR contract would replace Norway’s aging Sea King helicopter fleet.

That plan triggered warnings from people in the rescue service that the mid-range NH90 lacked the range and capacity required. Some Norwegians also pointed to Denmark’s departure from the Nordic Standard Helicopter Programme, precisely because the Danes needed the larger EH101 for the SAR role. Norway certainly has a lot of territory to cover. Its own long and deep maritime economic zone over the treacherous North Sea includes shipping, fishing, and abundant oil; and the American withdrawal from Keflavik AFB Iceland is stretching Norway’s patrol zones toward that country. Sikorsky’s Norwegian agent “Aircontactgruppen” has even taken the Norwegian government to court twice, demanding an open competition for the SAR helicopter contract. In 2007, they received their wish, and in 2013, Norway revealed their pick… not the S-92, and not its NH90 competitor.

The NAWSARH Program

Program Evolution & Schedule


Existing SH-3
(click to view full)

On Feb 1/07, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice announced that Norway’s option to buy 10 SAR versions of the NH90 would be allowed to lapse. Instead, they created the NAWSARH open competition, to begin in fall 2007.

By 2008, Iceland had confirmed that it would be part of the program, but the program’s failed to hit its goal of 2011 for initial delivery. NAWSARH hadn’t even picked its finalists when Iceland backed out in September 2012, and decided to lease 2 helicopters instead.

That left only Norway, but that country’s requirements grew to more than replace Iceland’s planned buy. The SAR fleet looks set to expand from its present set of 12 “Mk.43B” (SH-3B Sea King) machines, flown by No.330 squadron.

Initial requirement: Up to 19 helicopters, with an initial buy of 11 (10 Norway, 1 Iceland), and options to buy up to 8 (6 Norway, 2 Iceland). Value was between 2-3 billion NOK (then about $320-480 million), with an expected in-service phase-in between 2011-2014.

Current requirement: Up to 22 helicopters, with an initial buy of 16 machines for EUR 1.15 billion, and options for 6 more, all for Norway. Initial delivery is expected by 2017, and full capability by 2020.


S-92 MCA

(click to view full)

As it turned out, the original NH90 didn’t even make the final shortlist. Competitors beyond the NH90 included:

AW101 Merlin (Winner!) A larger, 3-engined AgustaWestland machine, whose civilian and military versions both serve in SAR roles. They were a confirmed bidder, with a local advocacy page. Military customers nearby include Britain and Denmark. The AW101’s positives included 3-engine reliability, and excellent range and carrying capacity. Potential issues included a history of low in-service rates, which extends across several militaries.

EC225 Cougar (finalist). Eurocopter’s civil EC225 Cougar is a familiar sight in Norway’s offshore oil & gas industry, and the French use its EC725 military counterpart as their Combat SAR platform. Positives include a notable civil record, an excellent local support network, rock-steady auto-hover even in extreme conditions, and good marks from pilots. Potential issues include range and cabin size, plus accidents that led to an especially ill-timed 2013 grounding of the helicopters in the North Sea. The grounding was lifted, but the damage may have been done.

S-92 Superhawk (eliminated). Sikorsky’s twin-engine H-92 Superhawk is slightly larger than the NH90. It is used by British search-and-rescue partnerships, was picked by South Korea in 2012, and is well known in the offshore oil & gas industry. About half of the type’s flying hours by 2009 had been logged in Norway, with 15 civil-owned machines in country. Positives include strong survivability features, a notable civil record, good commonality with the popular H-60 family, and an excellent local support network. Its potential issue involved questions about its engine power, and whether it could perform to the same level as the NH90. The H-92 option was represented by Norway’s Aircontactgruppen AS, who played a key role in forcing the competition open.

Not Playing

V-22 plane

CV-22 SEAL extraction
(click to view full)

While US NAVAIR responded to the original RFI, Boeing’s 2 options don’t appear to have been a factor in this competition. Either they did not bid, or were not pre-qualified.

Boeing’s HH-47 Chinook won a combat SAR competition in the USA before CSAR-X was canceled, and is used by American special forces. It was discussed as an early option, and certainly has the heft and capacity Norway needs. On the other hand, the HH-47 uses mostly metal construction, and may have a higher maintenance burden in a predominantly maritime environment.

US NAVAIR reportedly responded with Bell/Boeing’s V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, which offers a unique combination of speed and range. It also has a very strong rotor downwash that can be a problem in civil rescue situations, and a long and difficult service record that includes high maintenance costs and high-profile crashes. After beginning to prove its operational capability in Afghanistan, the V-22 has reportedly drawn some interest from Canada as a possible SAR aircraft. Even so, it was always seen as an outsider in the Norwegian competition, and wound up being a non-factor.

Contracts & Key Events

2011 – 2013

NAWSARH competitors set; AW101 and EC725 are the finalists, despite civil EC225 crashes and groundings; Civil firms will provide interim SAR service; AW101 wins, receives EUR 1.15 billion contract.


Canadian AW101 SAR
(click to view full)

November 28/17: Accident A Leonardo Helicopters AW-101 search and rescue (SAR) helicopter recently delivered to Norway overturned during a ground run on 24 October. No injuries were sustained to the two crew onboard at the time of the accident, but the helicopter itself was spotted on its side, sans its main rotor blades. The AW101 was scheduled to enter service in Norway in 2018 so the incident is a setback to Oslo’s replacement of its ageing SAR fleet.

November 22/17: Delivery Norway has received the first of an eventual 16 Leonardo AW101 helicopters configured for search and rescue (SAR) operations. Leonardo said the aircraft departed it’s Yeovil, UK facility on Friday for Sola Air Base in southern Norway, and will now receive further operational testing and evaluation before entering active service with the Royal Norwegian Air Force next year. The remaining helicopters in the $1.32 billion deal will be delivered through 2020. For SAR missions, the AW101 employs a multi-panel Osprey AESA surveillance radar system along with two rescue hoists, searchlights and advanced communications equipment.

May 6/16: Leonardo-Finmeccanica has launched a new 360 degree airborne radar using fixed panels distributed around the body of aircraft, which it claims is the first of its kind. Known as the Osprey, the fixed radar requires less parts than other 360 degree radar, which would normally sit on a gimbel, located on the belly of an aircraft, running the risk of damage when landing in snow or semi-prepared strips. The radar has already been sold to the Norwegian Air Force for use on their new AW101 search and rescue helicopters.

July 16/14: Kongsberg Defence Systems and Finmeccanica’s AgustaWestland subsidiary sign a protocol for extending and increasing Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) co-operation. Kongsberg will become a Centre of Excellence for MRO of dynamic components in Northern Europe, including a transfer of technology for advanced test equipment that allows full functional testing of NH90 and AW101 gear boxes.

Norway operates NH90 helicopters, and will add AW101’s for the NAWSARH search and rescue contract. This EUR 20-25 million per year agreement over the next 25 years helps cover Norwegian Industrial Participation requirements. Sources: AgustaWestland, “KONGSBERG and AgustaWestland Sign Agreement for Increased Co-operation”.

Dec 19/13: Contract. The NAWSARH contract is signed for 16 AW101 helicopters plus 15-20 years of support, with another 6 helicopter options available. Norway’s AW101s will be equipped with an advanced SAR equipment package, including a 4-axis digital Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS), “a multi-panel AESA surveillance radar system from Selex ES that provides 360° coverage” (presumably from the SeaSpray family), a surveillance turret, 2 rescue hoists, and a searchlight. The helicopters will be assembled in Yeovil, UK, and delivered from 2017 – 2020.

The “turnkey” support includes 15 years of technical support, spares at each of the operating bases, maintenance at the operating bases via Norway’s AIM Aviaiton, helicopter transmission services via Norway’s Kongsberg, and training services that include a full flight simulator in Norway by the end of 2016. The support contract has an optional 5-year extension period.

There’s a bit of a discrepancy between the cost reports, however. The Norwegian government cites a contract figure of NOK 6.25 billion (GBP 621.74 M/ EUR 742 M/ $1.015 B), while the UK government and AgustaWestland cite a GBP 1 billion (NOK 10.5 B/ EUR 1.15 B/ $1.632 B) deal. The difference seems to be too large to be accounted for by simply including the final 5-year support option, and AW’s wording seems to focus pretty clearly on the base deal. Sources: Norway MJPS, “Government signs search and rescue helicopter contract” | AgustaWestland, “AgustaWestland Signs Norwegian All Weather SAR Helicopter Contract For 16 AW101 Helicopters” | UKTI, “Government welcomes £1 billion AgustaWestland helicopter deal”.

NAWSARH contract

Nov 8/13: Winner! The Norwegian Government picks AgustaWestland’s AW101 for NAWSARH, and begins final negotiations for the delivery of new search and rescue helicopters:

“The Ministry of Justice and Public Security has today informed the four bidders Eurocopter, NHI, Sikorsky and AgustaWestland Ltd. that the latter is chosen as the preferred bidder for new SAR helicopters with related equipment and maintenance solutions to replace the current Sea King. The aim is that the contract following final negotiations will be concluded by the end of the year. The contract includes 16 new SAR helicopters with an option for further 6, and ensures that the Sea King will be phased out across the country by the end of 2020.”

Despite the EC725’s finalist status, ongoing crashes involving its EC225 commercial counterpart (q.v. Oct 22/12, Aug 25/13, July 22/13) cannot have been helpful to its chances. Some sources estimate that the final total for the initial 16-helicopter AW101 buy will be more than EUR 1 billion. The Norwegian government says that they expect negotiations to wrap up before 2013 ends, so we should know soon. Sources: Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

AW101 picked

Sept 30/13: Industrial. In the wake of the finalist announcement, Norway’s Kongsberg decided to join AgustaWestland’s NAWSARH team. Kongsberg has been maintaining the Mk.43B Sea King fleet’s rotorheads and gearboxes for the past 30 years. Under this partnership, they’d expand that role for AW101 rotorhead and gearbox maintenance and testing, including transfer of technology for advanced test equipment related to the gearbox and general helicopter maintenance.

If AgustaWestland wins the contract, Kongsberg expects to expand their helicopter activities to around NOK 150 – 200 million ($25 – $33.3 million) in annual revenues, securing about 50 jobs for around 30 years. The capabilities would also position Kongsberg for more work on Norway’s 14-helicopter NH90 NFH fleet, whose main source of support is AgustaWestland. Sources: Airforce Technology, “Kongsberg and AgustaWestland join forces for Norway’s NAWSARH contract”.

Sept 24/13: EC225. Eurocopter teams with CAE to create an approved EC225 “Level D” helicopter training center in Norway, including a CAE 3000 Series flight and mission simulator. Eurocopter would own the center, which would have strong civilian applications for the North Sea oil industry. They haven’t forgotten NAWSARH, however:

“The center’s new EC225 simulator will provide an unprecedented level of realism for pilot mission training – including flight profiles for the offshore oil and gas sector, search and rescue (SAR) operations and other complex scenarios for which simulation training is ideally suited. The EC-225 simulator will be equipped with a CAE Tropos-6000 visual system and a Eurocopter original simulation package.”

Sources: Eurocopter Sept 24/13 release.

Aug 25/13: EC225. An EC225 crash near Shetland kills 4 people, prompting the oil industry’s Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) to ground several models – again (q.v. Oct 22/12, July 22/13). Under the directive:

“…all models of the Super Puma series including: AS332 L, L1, L2 and EC225 should be grounded for “all Super Puma commercial passenger flights to and from offshore oil and gas installations within the UK… [except] search and rescue helicopters for emergency response.”

Sources: BBC, “Shetland helicopter crash: All UK Super Pumas grounded”.

EC225 Crash

July 22/13: EC225. EC225 helicopters will begin flying in key countries without the restrictions that have hobbled them – including Norwegian interdicts against flights over water. Eurocopter release:

“The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulatory authority validated on July 10 these safety measures, which were developed by Eurocopter after an extensive investigation into the main gear box shaft failures of two EC225 helicopters in the North Sea in 2012. EASA’s validation was followed by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority’s lifting of operational restrictions on the same day, with the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway taking the step on July 19. This allows the full return to service of EC225s worldwide.

Also validated by EASA are Eurocopter modifications to the EC225’s main gear box emergency lubrication system that ensure its full performance throughout the flight envelope.”

July 9/13: Finalists. Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security announces the finalists. The NH90 is out. Sikorsky, who forced a competition against the NH90, is also out. Further negotiations will now take place with AgustaWestland (AW101) and Eurocopter (EC725). Norway aims to sign a contract by the end of 2013, and phase out the last H-3 Sea King by 2020.

The EC 725 may seem like a surprising finalist, given its civilian EC225 counterpart’s well-publicized woes. The military versions have been able to remain flying throughout, and have been used by the French in Afghanistan. Norway MJPS.

Norwegian finalists

Sept 18/12: Icelandic freeze. Iceland leaves the NAWSARH project. The working relationship with Norway was good, but they decide on a less expensive option:

“Icelandic authorities have decided to end the co-operation on purchase of rescue helicopters as a consequence of great restrictions on public expenditures in Iceland. New rescue helicopters involve large investment requirements which the Icelandic government cannot guarantee in the coming years. Icelandic authorities will instead enter into a leasing agreement for two helicopters…”

Iceland out

March 2/13: EC225. AIN says the EC225’s flight restrictions since the Oct 22/12 accident are really hurting the offshore oil industry, in which Norway is a major player:

“Eurocopter anticipates that a solution to the main gearbox problem that has grounded the North Sea fleet of EC225s will be available next month. Offshore operators, especially those in the North Sea, have seen major disruption of their activities…. While Eurocopter engineers have found the root cause and developed a fix for false alarms with the main-gearbox emergency lubrication system, sleuthing the shaft cracks has been trickier…. Norwegian and UK authorities continue to prohibit flights over water…. after the British and Norwegian authorities decided to ground EC225s used for overwater flights, other countries followed suit. According to Olivier Claeys, an aviation expert at oil company Total, operators (as opposed to aviation authorities, Bristow officials noted) suspended EC225 flights worldwide. EC225s serving Total oil platforms in Angola, for example, are grounded.”

Not exactly a great advertisement for a SAR competitor that will need to undertake long flights in dangerous conditions. Sources: AIN, “Operators feel impact of EC225 grounding”.

Feb 15/12: Competitors pre-qualified. The Norwegian MoJPS announces that AgustaWestland (AW101), Eurocopter (EC725 military variant of the EC225), NH Industries (NH90) and Sikorsky (H-92) have all been pre-qualified as the competitors for the NAWSARH joint RFP.

“The work to finalize the tender documentation is ongoing. The tentative plan is that the tender documents will be submitted to the Prequalified Candidates early April 2012. It is expected to have the first helicopters delivered during 2016 and Sea King phased out within the end of 2020.”

See also NH Industries.

Feb 2/12: NAWSARH leadership changes. Project leader Kjell Jacob Johannessen steps back from the project, after his son’s position changes within a potential NAWSARH supplier. Deputy project leader Rune Haver will temporary be acting project leader. Norway MoJPS.

Oct 22/12: EC225. An EC225 LP helicopter belonging to CHC Scotia ditches in the North Sea, 32 miles SW of Shetland. It was en route to the West Phoenix oil drilling rig. A 360 degree crack was eventually found on the bevel gear vertical shaft, which kocked out the main gearbox lubrication system. The backup system was actually working correctly, but the displays said that those had also failed, so the pilots ditched the helicopter in the sea.

All of the people on board survived and were rescued. In the wake of the crash, major North Sea operators CHC Helicopter, Bond Offshore Helicopters, and Bristow Helicopters decide to ground all AS 332 and EC225 Super Puma helicopters. This would eventually be backed up by official prohibitions in Britain and Norway, and similar flight suspensions by other operators. Sources: NDT Hub, “Accident investigation finds similar faults on Super Pumas”.

EC225 crash

Oct 24/11: NAWSARH pre-qualification. Norway announces a pre-qualification process for bidders on its NAWSARH join project with Iceland. At the same time, Iceland’s Rikiskaup (State Trading Centre) publishes their procurement process on behalf of the Icelandic Ministry of Interior. The initial buy would be 11 helicopters (10 Norway, 1 Iceland), with options for 8 more (6 Norway, 2 Iceland).

The documents are submitted to the EU’s TED procurement portal. Norway | Iceland | Prequalification documents.

March 3/11: Civil SAR interim. Norway’s MoJPS will be relying on civil Search And Rescue helicopter services from 2014-2020, in order to provide these critical services until the NAWSARH helicopters are ready. But they won’t be buying them:

“The acquisition of backup capacity from a civil SAR- helicopter service provider based on the whitepaper St.prp. 80 S (2010-2011) will be performed by the Norwegian armed forces, thus have no directly link to the NAWSARH project.”

Interim SAR plans

2007 – 2010

Competition opened up; Evolution into NAWSARH program.

EC225 SAR Norway

EC225-SAR, Norway
(click to view full)

Oct 19-20/10: NAWSARH’s 3rd Industry Day. Agenda | Opening speech.

Industry Day #4 happens on June 20/11, and #5 happens on Nov 10/11.

Oct 14/10: Steep requirements. The Norwegian government clarifies further:

“In practice, this means that the future helicopters must have the capacity to fly between 220 Nm and 270 Nm in two hours and pick up 20 people… It is also worth noting that the above has been expressed as a minimum ambition, and if the range of the relevant helicopter candidates is greater than the minimum requirement, this will be weighted accordingly in the further work… As a point of interest: today’s Sea Kings are able to reach 53 Nm out from the straight baseline and pick up 20 persons in distress.

…To the best of our knowledge, there are no other countries that have equivalent or higher ambitions for their rescue helicopter service than the one currently presented by the government, especially taking into consideration the 24 hour on-site duty arrangement. The Ministry of Justice will continue the work with the acquisition process and does not have any preference for particular helicopter candidates.”

Sept 27/10: Delay and Requirements. The Norwegian government has pushed its timelines back, and now hopes to field new search and rescue helicopters by 2020:

“The government’s objective is to have capacity to begin rescue of 20 people in distress within a range of 150 nautical miles directly out from the straight baseline within two hours. In addition, they must be able to assist two people at the far perimeter of the Norwegian search and rescue region… The acquisition process is being continued. It is based on the recommended multi-mission concept consisting of a uniform fleet of 15 to 20 large helicopters (weighing 10-20 tonnes)… The future rescue helicopters will also continue the mission of the current helicopters, such as air ambulance (Medevac) and other services vital to society… The concept has been reviewed by HolteProsjekt AS and Econ Analyse AS as part of the external quality assurance. The total life cycle costs for the new helicopter fleet from procurement until 2050, is estimated to be in the region of NOK 29 – 39 billion [DID: $4.8 – 6.5 billion].”

See also the concept study “Forstudie for ny the rescue helicopter capacity (Pre-study of new rescue helicopter capacity),” prepared by the Rescue department in the Ministry of Justice, and the External quality assurance report.

June 23-24/08: Industry Day 2. NAWSARH holds its 2nd Industry Day. Agenda | Opening speech [PDF].

May 7/09: Candidates? A Teknisk Ukeblad article [in Norwegian] lists the NAWSARH competitors as the NH90, AgustaWestland’s AW101, Eurocopter’s EC725 Cougar, Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk, and Bell/Boeing’s V-22 Osprey.

Sept 3/08: Iceland, too. Delegations from Norway and Iceland meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, and decide that the Norwegian-Icelandic cooperation on acquiring rescue helicopters will continue. This cooperation is based on the Nov 30/07 agreement on new rescue helicopters, signed by Iceland’s Minister of Justice Bjørn Bjarnason and Norway’s Minister of Justice Knut Storberget. Norwegian Ministry of Justice.

Iceland added to NAWSARH

Feb 13/08: NAWSARH RFI. Norway’s Ministry of Justice releases the NAWSARH RFI.

May 16/07: Terje Moland Pedersen, the State secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Police announces that they will conduct a seminar for interested vendors at the Paris Airshow on June 18/07. The Ministry of Justice and the Police (MoJ) is responsible for the acquisition program. Quote:

“It is of vital importance that the acquisition program lead to multi engine, long range, wide capacity all weather SAR helicopters suitable for operation over the Norwegian waters in harsh weather condition and in the Norwegian topography with high mountains and low temperatures. It is equally important that these helicopters are equipped with state of the art search and rescue equipment and built to the latest safety standards. The program plan has targeted the implementation phase to be 2011 – 2014.”

Those interested in actual details and requirements will have to be in Paris.

Feb 22/07: Iceland, too? The Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Police announces that the NAWSARH project (Norwegian All Weather Search and Rescue Helicopter) project could become a joint acquisition. Iceland can no longer rely on American helicopters, now that the USA has abandoned Keflavik AB, and is reportedly looking for 3 new all-weather helicopters of its own, pushing a joint buy to 13-15 machines. The project is expecting to release an RFP in 2009. Ice News.

Feb 1/07: Competition opened. The Norwegian Ministry of Justice announces [Norwegian] that Norway won’t use its option to buy 10 SAR versions of the NH90, contradicting repeated assurances to date that the NH90 would be their SAR choice.

Instead, they are announcing that an open competition is set to be held between potential suppliers in fall 2007. The contract has a value of between 2-3 billion NOK (currently about $320-480 million), with an expected in-service phase-in between 2011-2014.

Norway opens SAR to competition

Additional Readings


* NH Industries. This joint venture by EADS Eurocopter, AgustaWestland, and Stork Fokker came together to make the NH90.

* AgustaWestland – AW101. See also AW101 SAR brochure [PDF]

* AgustaWestland Norway – AW101: Et Redninghelikopter for Norge

* Eurocopter – EC225.

* Sikorsky – S-92 Superhawk. The S-92 civilian version also comes in a specific SAR version.

* Aircontacsgruppen – Sikorsky S-92

NAWSARH: Background and News

Key Documents

* Norwegian Ministry of Justice – The NAWSARH Project. Also available in English.

* Norwegian Ministry of Justice (Feb 1/07) – En best mulig redningstjeneste

* Aircontactgruppen (Feb 1/07) – Partial English translation of the government release.

Related News

* Flight International (March 27/10) – Norway to Re-open Contest for SAR

* NH Industries (Sept 13/01) – NSHP Committee Selects The Nh90 Helicopter For Finland, Norway, And Sweden

Related Reports & Briefings

* UK Health and Safety Executive (2003) – RR48 – A review of Norwegian offshore based search and rescue helicopter operations

* DID – British Helicopter Search-and-Rescue’s Future: Civilian Contractors. Who fly S-92As.

One Source: Hundreds of programs; Thousands of links, photos, and analyses

DII brings a complete collection of articles with original reporting and research, and expert analyses of events to your desktop – no need for multiple modules, or complex subscriptions. All supporting documents, links, & appendices accompany each article.


  • Save time
  • Eliminate your blind spots
  • Get the big picture, quickly
  • Keep up with the important facts
  • Stay on top of your projects or your competitors


  • Coverage of procurement and doctrine issues
  • Timeline of past and future program events
  • Comprehensive links to other useful resources