Joe Conway was a Union Convenor at Westland and remembers the contract to build new helicopters for the President of the United States

In 2005, Westland won an order to build twenty-three helicopters for the President of the United States of America. The aircraft was the VH-71 subsequently renamed the US 101. The order was one of the most prestigious in Westland’s history, however, within two weeks of taking office, President Obama cancelled the order and only nine US 101’s were ever built.

 

What we were told, and many people didn’t know whether to believe it or not, was that because Tony Blair and George Bush had gone in together, you know, in Iraq, and they’d supported each other, that this was a trade-off, you know. It was very, very unusual for anyone to build any aircraft, let alone, the Presidents aircraft. He had a fleet you know, and the relationship between Bush and Blair, we believe helped get that contract. Whether it was a trade-off, whether it was just a favour or, whether it was something, but it was a massive contract as well.

They didn’t want a Westland built helicopter

We built the aircraft and suddenly the administration changed, Obama comes in. In their Senate, they didn’t want a Westland helicopter. However, we built them, we delivered them and they paid for them so virtually we couldn’t lose. Those aircraft were then put somewhere, out of the way in America, and we didn’t build any more than that so we lost the opportunity to build another nine, I think it was, but nine were delivered and so, really we lost 50% of the contract.

One day we will get some more work from those aircraft

It didn’t kill us, because we got the money for the ones we built, and eventually it, I think, Canada bought those aircraft, and they are being converted. And one day we will get some more work from those aircraft and so, in the long run, it wasn’t the end of the world. Whether it was the Bush/Blair agreement, I don’t know, but certainly, it was another contract we never expected to win.

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