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Eurocopter Canada Ltd. in Fort Erie, Ont., could triple in size if its parent company wins a contract for Canada's new search-and-rescue helicopter later this month.

Eurocopter is one of four companies vying for the $600 million (Canadian) award, said Willy Heidbuechel, president of the company.

"We could actually see 400 people here . . . and turn out 100 helicopters a year," he said. The company currently employs about 130 and produces 25 to 28 aircraft. The Fort Erie location assembles the 'copters from kits, supplying flight tests and custom modifications.

The contract from Canada's Ministry of Defence calls for shipments to begin two years after the award is made, continuing for five years. The 15 helicopters would gradually replace Boeing V-107 aircraft now used for land-based search and rescue, Heidbuechel said. The government is expected to award the contract late this month.

The other contenders for the job are Boeing's Chinook, a version of United Technologies' Sikorsky Hawk, and the EH-101, the product of an international consortium led by Britain's Westland Group.

Eurocopter's entry is the Cougar, also known as the Super Puma, used for search and rescue in 14 nations, including Sweden, Finland and Norway, Heidbuechel said.

The Fort Erie location would not supply the actual helicopters to fill the Canadian contract, he said. But the site's workload would increase because of contract requirements for the German-based company to perform a set amount of work in Canada.

Sometime after awarding the current contract, Canada will let a larger one for 32 ship-based 'copters, chiefly for the military, Heidbuechel said.

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