Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Albania buying 5 Eurocopters for 78 mln euros

TIRANA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Albania will buy five helicopters from Eurocopter for 78.6 million euros over four years to upgrade its fleet to the standards of NATO, which it joined in April last year.

Parliament is set to approve the contract late on Thursday after the Defence Ministry asked that it speed up the approval to replace its Soviet and Chinese-made helicopter fleet that dates back to the 1960s.

"The approval of this contract by parliament is absolutely indispensable because the helicopter fleet is an important asset at the national level," the government asked parliament in a report seen by Reuters. "For the armed forces, this will be probably for a long time the project of the biggest financial value."

Eurocopter, a unit of EADS (EAD.PA), will supply Albania with five AS 532 AL Cougar helicopters -- one of the military versions of the Super PUMA helicopters -- for use in its military, search and rescue operations and the transport of VIPs.

Albania has allocated two percent of its GDP to the armed forces for a decade now as it aimed to become a member of NATO with new equipment to conform to its participation in NATO operations.

Albania's fleet consists of Soviet and Chinese single-engine helicopters produced in 1965-1970 that have limited operational and technical qualities, cannot fly at night and cannot operate with NATO forces.

As soon as the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha came to power in 2005, it grounded the air force's fleet of airplanes, including the cigar-shaped MIG 19 and MIG 21 fighter jets, and sent them to scrapyards and museums.

Albania's future air fleet is largely to consist of helicopters because they are suitable to its mountainous terrain.

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