In the wake of a tail-boom failure on a Gulf Airways AW139 in August last year, AgustaWestland (Booth No. 1629) is assuring customers with helicopters on order that it will deliver them with a newly designed boom starting in April. The tail boom on the Gulf AW139 failed several months after the tail boom had struck an oil rig and while the helicopter was taxiing on the ground in Doha, Qatar. There were no injuries. That boom exhibited signs of debonding, as have numerous other AW139 tail booms, according to several operators.
Some of the debonding is severe enough to require replacement of the entire tail boom. Since the incident in Qatar, both the EASA and FAA have issued emergency Airworthiness Directives mandating more frequent inspections of the booms for debonding and proscribing curative measures.
The AW139 airframe and airframe components are made under contract by PZL Swidnik in Poland and Turkish Aerospace Industries. The new tail boom will use a different composite technique and an aluminum skin bonded to honeycomb, according to one U.S.-based AW139 customer.
An AgustaWestland spokesman said the new boom was certified by EASA on Dec. 23, 2009, and by the FAA on January 26 this year. He said the new boom extends the debonding inspection intervals and will be available for retrofit on AW139s already in service.
The $21 million AW139 medium twin has been a strong seller, particularly among petroleum-industry customers, since its introduction in 2003. More than 440 AW139s have been sold in more than 40 countries to almost 120 customers. U.S.-based customers include Bristow, Era Helicopters, Evergreen Helicopters, Department of Homeland Security and the Los Angeles (City) Fire Department. The helicopter is assembled at AgustaWestland plants in Italy and Philadelphia.