Rally Calls for Restored Military Helicopter Funding

About 100 can lose their jobs, and thousands affected, if the government program is not restored.

By Christine Lee
|  Friday, Jun 7, 2013  |  Updated 6:31 PM CDT
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Employees and their family members rallied at American Eurocopter in Grand Prairie and called on Congress to restore funding to the Army helicopter on which they work.

Christine Lee, NBC 5 Grand Prairie Reporter

Employees and their family members rallied at American Eurocopter in Grand Prairie and called on Congress to restore funding to the Army helicopter on which they work.

American Eurocopter employees are calling on federal lawmakers to restore funding to Army helicopters engineered in Grand Prairie.

About a 1,000 employees, family members and elected officials attended Friday's rally. U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton and state Rep. Linda Harper Brown spoke and expressed support for the company and its employees.

Proposed cuts in the federal budget would reduce production of the Eurocopter UH-72A Lakota by 31 fewer helicopters than the Army had planned to buy in 2014-2015. The decrease would effectively end production by the end of next year, endangering jobs, American Eurocopter said.

Military contracts like the one to build the Lakota have become the backbone of American Eurocopter, The Lakota program currently brings in more than a third of American Eurocopter's income, said Marc Paganini, CEO and president.

Russell Hoover, a senior aircraft technician and disabled military veteran, said he has worked on Lakota helicopters for the past five years.

"It's emotional to me, because it could be a job loss, income loss -- lose home, lose car, lose life, in that order," he said.

Hoover said that about 100 people in Grand Prairie could lose their jobs, with about 1,000 affected overall.

He said he also worries about the effect on the Army.

"This is also going to affect the military, because its fleet is getting old," he said. "You could only run a helicopter for so long before it gets to the point where you can't repair or rebuild anymore."

"The Lakota can help people when there is a disaster, like tornadoes or hurricanes," Hoover said. "When the roads are cut, then we go with helicopters to provide support."

Russell Spray, CEO of neighboring business Turbomeca, which makes Lakota engines, said the cut would have a major ripple effect.

"It really is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "There are suppliers for us, suppliers for American Eurocopter, especially in the Grand Prairie area ... [and] in fact, all around the Dallas-Fort Worth airport."

Grand Prairie-based American Eurocopter is the U.S. affiliate of Eurocopter, the largest helicopter manufacturer in the world, and a subsidiary of EADS North America Holdings.

The Grand Prairie facility performs all of the engineering changes for modifications and upgrades to the helicopters and trains pilots and maintenance workers.

The Lakota is manufactured in Mississippi.

Each of the 267 helicopters already delivered has been delivered on time and on budget, American Eurocopter said.

The Army had planned to order 31 aircraft in fiscal year 2014 and 10 in the following year. The proposed cuts would reduce the 2014 order to 10 and end the program early at the end of 2014.

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