Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo

Airbus helicopters 'essential to the security of the United States'

By Dennis Seid

COLUMBUS • For nearly 17 years, Airbus has been building helicopters used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the military in Columbus.

Airbus delivered the first of 16 new H125 helicopters uniquely configured for CBP's Air and Marines Operations on Wednesday at a ceremony that included U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly.

Air and Marine Operations is CBP’s federal law enforcement component.

Steve Boyer, deputy executive assistant commissioner of Air and Marine Operations, said the H125 helicopter was an exceptional machine that served a vital mission.

“We use this fleet every day, every year to intercept thousands of pounds of narcotics, take down human smuggling, take down drug trafficking organization, and we use it for national events ... this is our workhorse,” he said. “Airbus Helicopters’ continued commitment to designing, manufacturing, and delivering quality products will enable AMO personnel to successfully and safely carry out this mission.”

Kelly heaped praise on Customs and Border Protection.

“Phenomenal men and women serve with the Border Patrol; they just don’t pick up bad guys, they also help save lives,” he said. “When people get in distress, these helicopters will go and pick them up. The men and women of Border Patrol are compassionate and love this nation and they love people. And Airbus’ commitment to Mississippi is outstanding. They do a tremendous job putting out a quality product. These helicopters are absolutely necessary for us to save lives and do the things we need to do, including hurricane response, earthquake response, when we have lost people and our drug missions.”

The first helicopter for the new configuration for AMO was tested and delivered from Airbus Helicopters’ facility in Grand Prairie, Texas. The remaining aircraft are being built in Columbus, where a workforce made up of 40 percent U.S. veterans also produces the UH-72A Lakota for the U.S. Army and has delivered more than 450 single-engine H125 aircraft for the North American market.

Airbus has delivered more than 100 helicopters from the H120 and H125 family to AMO during the past 20 years.

Wicker heaped praise on the workers at the plant, saying the helicopters were recognized worldwide. He said the presence of himself, Kelly and U.S. Sen. Cindy-Hyde Smith – who had to bow out after a family emergency – was a “statement.”

“We’re all three on the program to make a statement, that we’re committed to this aircraft,” he said.

Wicker also is the second-leading member of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Forces Committee said the commitment to Airbus in Columbus is necessary because it is “essential to the security of the United States of America, and we all benefit from it.”