AgustaWestland believes it can sell as many as 200 AW189 medium helicopters equipped for search and rescue (SAR) missions over the next 15 years.

The company says it is confident about the type’s opportunities, but that success hinges on the aircraft being chosen for the U.K.’s Long SAR program. The program calls for private contractors to take over SAR helicopter operations from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy under a series of contracts worth between £2-3 billion ($3.26 - 4.9 billion) over a decade.

The manufacturer has selected the Yeovil plant in Somerset to produce SAR-equipped aircraft. The move would be a significant boost to U.K. industry, returning civil helicopter production to the country for the first time in 25 years.

Two of the companies bidding for the deal, Bond and Bristow, have the AW189 on order – although none of the companies have revealed which aircraft types they will be offering.

Graham Cole, chairman of AgustaWestland, told Aviation Week: “The real excitement won’t be the 12 or 14 or 16 aircraft for the U.K., but the fact that we are going to turn it into an export model. We are predicting on SAR that over 200 aircraft could be exported from Yeovil, but that challenge will not be helped at all if the U.K. does not choose it.”

Significant work on bringing AW189 production to the U.K. is already under way. One of the prototypes is currently undergoing 200 hr. of flight trials from Yeovil. That aircraft will return to Italy in March, and the sixth prototype will arrive at Yeovil in April, allowing work to begin on the development of the SAR mission kit. The AW189 is an 8-ton class, twin-engine medium helicopter based on the AW149 multimission military helicopter. Around 60 AW189s have been ordered so far, many destined for the offshore oil and gas support mission.

The last civil helicopter to be built in the U.K. was the Westland WG.30, a growth version of the Lynx built for passenger transport. Just 41 were built, with production ending in 1987.