Igor Tabakov / MT The Irkut Be-200, capable of handling 12 tons of water, has its first foreign buyer in an American aerial firefighting company.
Pioneering fighter plane maker Irkut on Monday said it had found an American buyer for its Be-200 amphibious jet, the first foreign customer to sign up for the unique firefighting craft.
Hawkins & Powers, a Wyoming-based company specializing in aerial firefighting and agriculture spraying, signed a protocol agreement to buy eight of the novel Be-200s, which are powered by Rolls-Royce BR715 engines, with the delivery of the first scheduled for 2007, Irkut said in a statement.
The company did not put a price tag on the deal, but an Irkut official said on condition of anonymity that the total package would come to about $200 million.
The agreement was reached with the help of Rolls-Royce and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., or EADS, which last year agreed to help Irkut promote the craft internationally and assist in post-sale servicing.
The jets, which are capable of scooping and dropping 12 tons of water, will be assembled at Irkut’s production facility near Lake Baikal in Irkutsk, where the company also assembles Sukhoi Su-30MK fighters for export to India and Malaysia.
Monday’s deal is a watershed for Irkut, which previously had a single client — the Emergency Situations Ministry, to which it has delivered only one of a total of seven planes ordered in 2001.
The company believes it can sell up to 320 of the craft in 25 countries over the next 20 years. Other potential clients with whom Irkut has been in discussions include the French and Italian governments. Irkut spokeswoman Yelena Fyodorova said that Paris wants to lease two of the craft, while Rome is looking to lease one before the fire season starts in May.
Hawkins & Powers operates a fleet of more than 40 aircraft, including six Lockheed Martin C-130s, known as Hercules, a more expensive rival to the Be-200.
The company could not be reached for comment late Monday.
Last year, when vast swathes of the U.S. state of New Mexico were engulfed in flames, the Emergency Situations Ministry received an urgent request from its American counterpart asking it to send two Ilyushin Il-76 water-bombers to assist in extinguishing the blazes. That request was rescinded the next day, reportedly over concerns of the potential political fallout of giving business to the Russians instead of private U.S. air tanker operators.
Unlike the Be-200, the Soviet-era Il-76 is not amphibious.
Irkut is planning what will likely be the largest public offering ever for a Russian company and the first by a Russian defense company next month, when it expects to raise some $100 million by floating 20 percent of its shares on the domestic market.
Irkut is also in talks with Eurocopter, the world’s leading helicopter company, to assemble its choppers in Russia to tap the country’s booming oil and gas services market.
Eurocopter is a subsidiary of European aerospace giant EADS, Irkut’s partner in marketing the Be-200.
Irkut president Alexei Fyodorov has said that his company is interested in eventually producing Eurocopter parts in Russia to save costs.
Irkut wants to assemble Eurocopter’s single-engine EC 120 and twin-engine EC 130 light models.