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Subaru returns to commercial helicopters after 23-year hiatus

Joint model with Bell gets green light from US regulators

A model of the Subaru Bell 412EPX at the 2018 Farnborough Airshow. Subaru plans to start offering commercial helicopters, a field it exited 23 years ago. (Photo by Masamichi Hoshi)

FARNBOROUGH, U.K. -- Subaru is one step closer to returning to commercial helicopters after a new model developed jointly with Bell Helicopter Textron was type-certified by American authorities earlier this month.

The Japanese maker of automobiles and aircraft will work together with the U.S. company to manufacture the new multipurpose 412EPX, with plans to sell over 150 units worldwide. Subaru stopped making commercial helicopters 23 years ago.

"Subaru will focus on Asia, and Bell on Europe and the U.S., as we sell commercial helicopters around the world," Shoichiro Tozuka, executive vice president in charge of Subaru's in-house aerospace company, told Nikkei in a Tuesday interview. This will mark the first time Subaru directly sells its helicopters abroad.

Helicopters for the Asian market will be made in Japan. Customer service will also be based there, and Subaru is currently training the necessary personnel.

The joint model is based on Bell's best-selling 412EPI, allowing the companies to spend half as much money as they would have designing from scratch. Its safety features include the ability to continue flying for 30 minutes after running out of lubricant oil. Subaru was in charge of the transmission system, among other things.

Subaru currently produces military helicopters under a license from Bell. It is expected to start supplying UH-X helicopters -- a military derivative of the 412EPX -- to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in 2022, and hopes synergies with the new commercial version will help reduce costs.

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