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Boeing picks European partner for presidential copter bid

NEW YORK — Boeing Co. said today it would team up with Europe's AgustaWestland to bid on a multibillion-dollar contract to build the next-generation fleet of U.S. presidential helicopters, shaking up an already turbulent competition.

It's the second attempt by AgustaWestland — a unit of Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica SpA — to sell its AW101 medium-lift helicopter for the military program that shuttles the president and key cabinet members.

Chicago-based Boeing said it would secure a license from AgustaWestland to produce the helicopter in the U.S. The company will submit its bid before the June 18 deadline.

"As a leading original equipment manufacturer in the military helicopter market and with our nearly 50 years of experience in presidential transport, we believe we are uniquely positioned to make the most of the Navy's significant investment in this aircraft," said Phil Dunford, general manager for Boeing Rotorcraft Systems.

AgustaWestland was first awarded the contract in 2005 as part of a team led by Lockheed Martin Corp., but it was scrapped last year for cost overruns. The $6.5 billion deal for 23 helicopters eventually doubled in cost as more security- and communication-related equipment was added to the aircraft.

Teaming up with Boeing this time is a surprise development in the seven-year effort to replace the aging fleet, but the aerospace giant has a better reputation for clamping down on costs, according to Richard Aboulafia, Teal Group analyst.

Combined with the AW101's strong reputation among military officials, the venture gives the companies a strong advantage over the competition, Aboulafia said.

"The 101 has the sweet spot in the market for the presidential helicopter," he said.

In March, Lockheed Martin said it would team up with Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a unit of United Technologies Corp., to offer its H-92 Superhawk helicopter.

In the last round, Sikorsky had partnered with Boeing to offer its smaller S-92 model.

No one from the Navy was available to comment on the competition.

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