Norway to return NH90 helicopters and seek refund

OSLO, June 10 (Reuters) - Norway said it would axe its fleet of NH90 military helicopters and ask for a refund from a consortium led by Europe's Airbus (AIR.PA), which hit back by calling the move "legally groundless".

Norway will return the NH90 military helicopters it ordered from the NHIndustries consortium because they are either unreliable or were delivered late, the defence minister and the head of the military said on Friday.

Oslo said it would also seek repayment of 5 billion crowns ($523 million) plus interest and other costs from NHIndustries, which is owned by Airbus Helicopters (AIR.PA), Italy's Leonardo (LDOF.MI) and Fokker Aerostructuresof the Netherlands.

"No matter how many hours our technicians work, and how many parts we order, it will never make the NH90 capable of meeting the requirements of the Norwegian Armed Forces," Defence Minister Bjoern Arild Gram told a news conference.

The helicopter consortium said it was "extremely disappointed" by the decision.

"NHIndustries considers this termination to be legally groundless," it said in statement.

It said it had not been offered the possibility to discuss the latest proposal made to improve the availability of the NH90 in Norway or address specific Norwegian requirements.

Airbus shares fell just over 1%.

The original contract for 14 helicopters was signed in 2001 but Norway has received only eight, the ministry said.

"We have a helicopter that doesn't work the way it's supposed to," said General Eirik Kristoffersen, the head of Norway's armed forces.

However, NHIndustries said it had delivered 13 of 14 and the fourteenth was ready for acceptance, meaning "we were close to finalising the main scope of the initial contract."

($1 = 9.5572 Norwegian crowns)

Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; editing by Terje Solsvik and Jason Neely

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Thomson Reuters

Oversees news coverage from Norway for Reuters and loves flying to Svalbard in the Arctic, oil platforms in the North Sea, and guessing who is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in France and with Reuters since 2010, she has worked for The Guardian, Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera English, among others, and speaks four languages.