GEELONG, Australia — Airbus is expressing confidence in the future of its Tiger attack helicopter in Australian service, even as Canberra considers early replacement of the type.

While Bell and Boeing, sensing an opportunity, spend on marketing their attack helicopters to Australia, Airbus’s local unit says the country’s Tiger operators are satisfied.

Reliability of the Tiger in Australian service has improved considerably, according to Airbus figures, but it has not reached a level that the Australian Army is likely to regard as adequate for the future.

An average of 3.5 Tigers were serviceable in 2015, among 16 Tigers in squadron service and 22 in the whole fleet. But availability is now about 50%, says Tony Fraser, head of Airbus’s Australian and Pacific business. A further 25% are available at four hours’ notice, Fraser said at the Avalon Australian International Airshow at Geelong.

According to Boeing, an average of 88% of U.S. Army AH-64Es are ready for missions.

A year ago an Australian defense white paper scheduled Tiger replacement in the mid-2020s, even though the helicopters were still two months from becoming finally operational, after protracted delays. Worse, in August the defense department said it would consider scrapping a planned project aimed at improving Tiger sustainability. That implied an even earlier out-of-service date.

Smelling Tiger blood, Bell and Boeing are circling. Bell is exhibiting the AH-1Z Viper and Boeing the AH-64E at the air show.

Looking toward the then mid-2020s replacement date, the department told Aviation Week in August 2016 that manned and unmanned systems and combinations of them would be considered.

Fraser says the Tiger is deployable and the army is happy with the aircraft. It has a bright future in Australian service, he adds. 

The defense department was also positive about the Tiger in 2015, before its change of heart, calling it the best attack helicopter in the world for its weight.

Fraser points especially to the maneuverability of the aircraft, which Australia uses in the armed reconnaissance role.

Airbus has also had difficulty in a project to supply the Australian Army with originally 46, now 47, helicopters of the MRH90 battlefield version of the NH90. Availability for the MRH90 is just under 70%, Fraser says. The company is working to reduce the maintenance burden.