WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin is committed to the commercial helicopter market despite shrinkage in the sector due to the slide in oil prices since it took over Sikorsky Aircraft from United Technologies Corp (UTX.N) last year, a senior executive told Reuters on Thursday.
Some analysts and industry executives have suggested Lockheed, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier, could sell off Sikorsky's commercial helicopter business and focus solely on its military division.
But Steve O'Bryan, head of business development for Lockheed's mission systems and training business, said the downturn was affecting all helicopter makers active in the oil and gas exploration sector.
"Lockheed Martin has a steadfast commitment to the commercial helicopter market," O'Bryan told Reuters at the annual Surface Navy Association conference.
He said the company saw opportunities for sales of commercial search and rescue helicopters and VIP transports, which would help offset sales to the oil and gas sector, as well as continued domestic and international military sales.
Sikorsky helicopters continue to be utilized at a very high rate in the oil and gas sector, he noted, with low idle time.
Demand for military helicopters remains strong in the Middle East and Asia, as well as in eastern Europe, where countries are seeking to replace Soviet-era equipment, O'Bryan said.
He said Lockheed was ready to support the new Polish government as it revisits a decision by the previous government to buy utility helicopters built by Airbus Group (AIR.PA).
The government last month said it would review the helicopter decision, and a separate decision to buy Patriot missile defense equipment from Raytheon Co (RTN.N).
O'Bryan cited demand for a range of Sikorsky helicopters, including workhorse H-60 Black Hawks, which he described as "a very mature product with relatively low cost," as well as the marine version of the helicopters, known as Sea Hawks.
The new heavy-lift CH-53K helicopter that Sikorsky is building for the U.S. Marine Corps was also drawing some interest, he said. The CH-53K completed its first test flight in October, marking a major milestone for the program.
The Marine Corps expects to spend $29 billion to buy 200 of the new helicopters, with an initial squadron slated to be ready for combat use by 2019.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dan Grebler