Despite delays that have slowed progress on the Bell/Agusta BA609, AgustaWestland CEO Guiseppe Orsi insisted the program remains on track for certification and first customer deliveries in 2011.
Two prototypes have logged 285 hours in the air and another 250 hours conducting ground runs. One prototype is flying at Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, Texas, and the other at AgustaWestland in northern Italy. A third prototype under construction at AgustaWestland is expected to fly later this year. It will spend the next two winters conducting icing tests, Orsi said.
Bell holds a majority stake in the program, but AgustaWestland has been pressing its partner for a bigger role. AgustaWestland increased its investment three years ago in the Bell/Agusta Aerospace joint venture from 25 to 40 percent. While acknowledging AgustaWestland has approached Bell about boosting its involvement further, Orsi declined to provide specifics of those discussions. “The detailed ownership and participation in the program is confidential,” he said.
Bell/Agusta holds firm orders for about 80 BA609s from 40 customers in 22 countries, Orsi said. He declined to discuss the tilt-rotor’s projected price.
“Twenty-five months prior to the planned delivery a firm price will be established,” he said. “In any case, price will be confidential with our customers.” Some would-be buyers have balked at an expected price tag in the $16 to $20 million range and hourly operating costs that experts say likely would exceed $5,000.