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Airbus Helicopters boosts deliveries, pledges UK investment

LONDON (Reuters) - Airbus Helicopters on Wednesday posted a 2% rise in deliveries last year to 344 units, cementing its position as the world's largest commercial helicopter maker as it booked a net total of 362 orders.

Before cancellations, the Airbus subsidiary won 374 gross orders last year, it said in a statement.

Airbus Helicopters, whose competitors include Textron subsidiary Bell and AgustaWestland, part of Italy's Leonardo, said that it had secured 52% of the global civil and parapublic - government-owned or operated services like police and air ambulances - market in 2022.

Airbus Helicopters also confirmed that its helicopter fleet flight hours had returned to pre-COVID 2019 levels.

Flight hours drive service revenues that make up almost half of Airbus Helicopters sales.

Cushioned by public services, helicopter demand suffered less from COVID-19 than the grounded airline industry.

Airbus Helicopters Chief Executive Bruno Even told Reuters in September that flight hours had reached pre-COVID levels and the number of available second-hand helicopters - a brake on new sales - had fallen.

In Wednesday's statement, Even warned of a "fragile supply chain," however.

On the military side, Airbus Helicopters said it was pushing ahead with the design of an assembly line in Broughton, Wales, for the military version of its H175 helicopter in the event it wins a competition to supply the British military.

Britain plans to buy up to 44 medium helicopters to replace its fleet of Pumas and other military models, with Airbus' European rival Leonardo seen as front-runner.

Leonardo dominates the UK military market, while Airbus has the greatest number of commercial and emergency helicopters.

On Tuesday, Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury set out the company's pitch in London, where he said the Broughton facility - a World War II bomber factory where Airbus has for decades made wings for jets - would become the sole assembly site for the H175M for the world market if Airbus won the bid.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)