Having assumed total responsibility for the AB139, how do you plan to deal with the growing backlog of orders?
First of all, to mark the integration of AgustaWestland we have rebranded it as the AW139. The helicopter’s success was part of the reasoning behind our decision to realign Bell/Agusta Aerospace. We also wanted to consolidate the company’s industrial presence in the U.S. The AW139 is a very successful helicopter with a high level of customer expectation. Almost 60 aircraft were ordered in 2005 and the cumulative order book stands at more than 150.
Establishing an assembly line at Philadelphia, in addition to Vergiate, Italy, will expand our capability to satisfy U.S. customer demands. I am confident that consolidating the ownership of the AW139 will provide a single face to the customer, lead to both increased sales and more effective support services.
You have also increased your stake in the BA609. Is there a plan to take over Bell’s stake in that project?
The BAAC realignment allows AgustaWestland to increase its economic interests in the BA609, from the original 25 percent to a maximum of 40 percent. AgustaWestland and Bell have a long successful history of working together and we look forward to a long and prosperous relationship with the BA609. We will also continue to partner with Bell on the US101 Presidential fleet.
When do you expect to fly the second BA609 in Italy? How do you see the flight program proceeding toward FAA/EASA certification?
The program is progressing well, achieving full airplane mode in July 2005. We expect to fly aircraft number two in Italy during the middle of this year. Tests are also progressing in support of aircraft number one. The BA609 is being developed to the latest FAA airworthiness standards for transport-category aircraft. Certification approvals from both authorities are expected in 2009. Flight-test activities are very demanding and I don’t think we will be able to bring a prototype to shows this year.
What is the status of the cracks found in the Canadian Cormorant tail-rotor pylons? How have you reassured the USAF that it will not face a similar problem, if it picks the US101 for its CSAR fleet?
The cases of superficial cracking around the tail-rotor hub window cutouts have been solved by a new standard of half hub. This standard has introduced revisions to the manufacture and lay up of the window area of the half hub. All EH101 operators are performing extremely well, as evidenced by the six British RAF machines in Iraq. Canadian forces SAR pilots and technicians have saved lives with the Cormorant that, had they been flying any other medium-lift helicopter, would not have been possible. A new tail rotor is being designed to meet the requirements for new variants of the EH101 such as the US101.
Since winning the U.S. Presidential contract, what level of interest in the EH/US101 have you had from VIP customers? Will any customer orders be built in Europe or the U.S.?
With a 16-ton gross weight, the EH101 is now mainly directed at the military, paramilitary and VVIP/head-of-state transport sectors. Currently in service in Bosnia and Iraq, it is the only helicopter flying today that can demonstrate such levels of safety, speed and capability.
The US101 American variant is built in collaboration with Lockheed Martin and Bell. We have several head-of-state/VVIP prospect customers looking at the helicopter.
Where are your R&D efforts currently focused?
We are undertaking research activities in the tiltrotor and tiltwing technology. We have launched a program to develop a new state-of-the-art, third-generation fly-by-wire system and are pursuing projects aimed at making new helicopters and tiltrotors more environmentally friendly. We are also conducting R&D activities in key areas such as pilot ergonomics and situational awareness. All of these efforts are aimed at maximizing operational use.