HAI Convention News

AgustaWestland plans Russian final assembly plant for AW139

 - February 20, 2009, 7:31 AM

European manufacturer AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, is exhibiting four helicopters at Heli-Expo and plans to announce new orders and  provide briefings on the AW109/119 and 139 models here today. On display are a Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) AW139, a Grand configured for executive transport, a high-gross-weight AW119ke Koala and an AW139 equipped for offshore operations.

The LAFD is the first operator of dedicated firefighting AW139s, which are equipped with high-capacity water tanks. They also will be used for search and rescue (SAR), emergency medical services (EMS) and law enforcement (LE). The customer previously has flown five Bell 412s for such missions. Operators in Korea and Malaysia also have ordered firefighting AW139s.

Recent AW139 orders include five for the Cypriot government (two LE models for the Justice Ministry and three for EMS and SAR duties with the Defence Ministry) and one for late 2010 delivery to the Estonian Ministry of the Interior. The manufacturer also has received a letter of intent  from Russian energy-industry support operator UTAir, potentially covering delivery of seven AW139s a year for five to seven years beginning in 2011. UTAir also offers transport, EMS, SAR and forestry-related aerial services.

The UTAir helicopters are expected to be among the first delivered from a Russian final-assembly line planned under a joint venture  between AgustaWestland and Russian state-controlled aerospace holdings company Oboronprom. The deal was announced at last May’s HeliRussia exhibition in Moscow, with a “heads of agreement” document signed at the Farnborough Air Show two months later.

According to AgustaWestland chief executive Giuseppe Orsi, the joint venture is “a milestone in our global strategy aimed at expanding our presence in the civil market.” Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are seen as offering “huge potential” as the countries update their commercial helicopter fleets.

The AgustaWestland/Oboronprom exercise involves three main steps:
• An initial long-term contract and distribution agreement with Loyd’s Investments Corp. to offer AgustaWestland civil helicopters in Russia and most CIS markets;
• Opening of maintenance centers for AgustaWestland helicopters in Russia; and
• Establishment of a 50-50 joint company in Russia to assemble civil AW139s at
a greenfield site on the outskirts of Moscow (for which formal Russian government approval was expected early this year).

Russian-assembled helicopters, produced from AgustaWestland kits, will be delivered to Russian and CIS customers and to other countries through AgustaWestland’s distribution network. Production is expected to exceed 20 helicopters per year.

Finmeccanica chairman and chief executive Pier Francesco Guarguaglini said the joint venture “further strengthens AgustaWestland’s position in this key market, where [we have] been building a remarkable industrial base through major cooperation with prime local players.”

For Oboronprom director-general Andrey Reus, the UTAir letter of intent is important for the local high-technology sector. “Russian helicopter engineering can gain access to advanced production technologies and high-quality [product-support] standards. We will strive to expand collaboration.”

Later this year, AgustaWestland expects to deliver the 250th AW139. A heavier, 15,000-pound-gross-weight variant has been developed as an option to meet long-range offshore requirements, with a retrofit kit available for existing 139s. The weight increase permits a higher fuel load that would provide a greater, 300-nm range with 12 passengers and 30-minute reserves.

AgustaWestland said the introduction of the option requires flight-manual changes that include recording of time operated at the higher weight. Having worked to minimize any impact on maintenance procedures and operating costs, the manufacturer said costs would be “not that much different.” FAA certification was expected early this year, following initial European approval.

In January, AgustaWestland said an AW139 was in the U.S. testing a full ice-protection system (FIPS), one of several planned improvements. The optional FIPS equipment is aimed at achieving dual FAA/EASA certification for flight-into-known-icing conditions, expected late this year or in the first three months of  next year.

Also last month, Aerospace Filtration Systems (AFS) said it expects FAA supplemental type certification later this year for its AW139 inlet barrier filter developed in conjunction with the airframe company, which hopes to offer it for retrofit and as a new option. AFS said the modification, which includes ice detection, mounts faired dual-filter assemblies on the engine doors to provide a sealed intake plenum.

AgustaWestland also is developing a larger machine to fit between the Grand and AW139 models. It confirmed at last July’s Farnborough Air Show a 9,000-pound-class light-twin project dubbed AWXX9, which will be aimed at all markets.

In terms of competition, the new design would fit between Bell’s Model 407 and 412SP and between Eurocopter’s EC 145 and Dauphin helicopters. The AWXX9 will have a bigger cabin than the Grand and lift a heavier payload.