HAI Convention News

Agusta’s CEO insists industry is ‘in good shape’

 - February 22, 2009, 6:43 PM

Citing a backlog of more than ?10 billion ($12.8 billion) and increases in both revenue and orders during the first nine months of 2008 compared to the same period the year before, AgustaWestland executives on Saturday night said they remain “reasonably and realistically optimistic” about the future of their company as well as that of the industry at large.

AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi said the helicopter industry is “in good shape” and isn’t likely to suffer as a result of the economic downturn. “Our industry is solid. [It’s] doing fine,” he said. “We have a backlog of $13 billion, and Eurocopter has at least the same or more. My suggestion is to look at what’s going on, not with dark glasses, but…with a lot of confidence for the future.”

If the numbers are anything to go by, the company appears well poised to manage the “challenging” economic conditions with “a strong spirit and a solid balance sheet,” as stated by the manufacturer’s vice president of marketing, Roberto Garavaglia.

Revenue increased to ?2.18 billion in the first nine months of last year, compared to ?2.08 in the same period in 2007, while orders increased from ?2.08 billion to ?3.39 billion. Italy, the UK and the U.S. are still the company’s largest customers, and government and defense applications are by far the strongest market share, accounting for approximately 70 to 75 percent of total orders and deliveries, the company said.

“We’re in a very comfortable position,” Garavaglia said. “We’re quite happy and looking confidently into the future.”

In addition to increasing the company’s global presence through a number of international industrial partnerships, including the recently announced partnership with Tata Sons of India for the production of the AW119, AgustaWestland also hopes to increase its research-and-development activities over the next few years.

“We believe in the future,” Orsi said, adding that the goals of the company
include improving the company’s “traditional” helicopters and overcoming limitations through the use of new technologies and investments in infrastructure. “If we don’t develop the infrastructure, we won’t have a future,” he said.

In addition, Orsi said the company “believes the future is in the tiltrotor.” He admitted, however, that the delay in BA609 production was due in part to a lack of dedicated resources. “We have been working on other problems and we gave precedence to other programs,” he said. “The Bell partnership is working, and the program is under review.”

He said he expects production to begin in 2013 or 2014, but given the delays the program has already experienced, those dates are questionable. The two test aircraft scheduled to join the test fleet in 2010 were originally expected to join the fleet last year, for example.

The company also addressed the rumors that President Barack Obama will be canceling the Presidential helicopter order. The program, the VH-71 joint venture between AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin, has nearly doubled in cost to more than $11 billion.

“Since 2000 there have been more than 30 programs that have gone into the Nunn-McCurdy brief,” which is the law that requires the Pentagon to report programs that go over budget, explained Dan Hill, head of AgustaWestland North America. “It’s not uncommon, and it’s been known since early 2008 that this was going to happen. Only two programs that have gone into the brief have been canceled so far. And we’re confident for two reasons: the requirement still exists, and the Pentagon has looked at more than 30 alternatives and they always come back to the fact that the VH-71 is the only helicopter that can do the mission.”