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Plant in Columbus to produce new military type helicopters

American Eurocopter Corp. was awarded a coveted $2.2 billion contract on Friday to build a fleet of military helicopters and a majority of the work will be done at a Mississippi plant, the state’s congressional delegation announced.

Ralph D. Crosby Jr., chairman and CEO of EADS North America has said the 85,000-square-foot Columbus plant, which opened in 2004, plans to add about 225-250 new jobs during peak assembly of the new UH145 helicopters.

The plant now has a workforce of about 115.

EADS North America is a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., the world’s second-largest aerospace company behind Boeing Co.

EADS captured the contract in competition with three other companies to build up to 322 helicopters to modernize the Army and Army National Guard fleet, officials said.

“This decision further solidifies Mississippi’s position as a player in the global aerospace industry,” Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said in a statement. “American Eurocopter employees in the Golden Triangle can look forward to a bright future and more good-paying jobs.

“The U.S. Army is assured that they will get a quality product built by American workers that will serve our armed forces for many years to come.”

The plant, located on 40 acres at the Golden Triangle Airport, already builds the company’s A-Star (AS350) helicopters, and it customizes other Eurocopter models.

EADS will head a production team for the LUH that includes other companies.

Friday’s award calls for construction of eight initial units totaling $43 million.

Lott said fulfilling the Army contract requires that the Columbus facility’s plant size be doubled.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said the light utility helicopter program award “indicates that Mississippi continues to enhance its reputation as a state with advanced technology development capabilities and is firmly committed to meeting the needs of the men and women who are fighting to protect our nation.”

The new helicopters are designed to replace the UH-1 and OH-58 helicopters for the Army and National Guard. The UH-145, a version of its EC-145 helicopter, can carry up to nine passengers or two stretchers and two medical personnel for medical missions, has front windscreens which offer its crews broad visibility and rear clamshell doors to provide a back entry.