HAI Convention News

Heli-Expo 2011: CEO Hails AgustaWestland’s Growth and New Products, But Progress on the BA609 Civil Tiltrotor Remains on the Slow Track

 - March 6, 2011, 12:20 PM

AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppi Orsi had reason to smile at Saturday night’s press conference, pointing out that the Milan-based manufacturer delivered 111 commercial helicopters in 2010 and the commercial order book showed an increase of 56 percent when compared with 2009.

Offering a chart tracking market share, Orsi said AgustaWestland’s share has grown from 11 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2010. More recently, he said, “AgustaWestland has been growing at more than three times the rate of market growth.”

Citing a jump in total revenue from $4.832 billion in 2009 to $5.060 billion in 2010, Orsi credited in part a 43-percent increase in AW139 orders and a combined commercial and military order book for 230 helicopters valued at $4.443 billion.

He further noted a 25 percent increase in order backlog, now valued at $16.888 billion. That backlog, according to AgustaWestland, represents three years of production.

As to the outlook, Orsi said parent company Finmeccanica is committed to the support of vertical flight as well as investment in new products and technologies. And he forecast a new growth cycle in the civil helicopter market from 2012, led by offshore and parapublic markets, with corporate/VIP sales improving less quickly as the economy recovers.

He cited the new AW169 as an example of AgustaWestland’s vision for the future. While the official word is that the company expects a first flight in 2012 and entry into service in 2014, Orsi, smiling broadly, interjected his personal belief that entry into service will be in 2013.

He said Heli-Expo 2011 marks the “full commercial launch” of the AW169 and that AgustaWestland will begin taking orders here, where a full-scale mockup is on display at Booth No. 3811. And he emphasized that these will be firm orders. “It will be a firm order, or no order.”

And while admitting that the relationship with BA609 tiltrotor partner Bell remains “tense,” an agreement is near that will allow AgustaWestland to move ahead more aggressively on its own. He added that AgustaWestland hopes to announce certification and delivery dates at next year’s Heli-Expo. Meanwhile, he said the program is moving, “but at a very slow pace.”

With deliveries of 86 military helicopters in 2010, Orsi said the outlook remains positive in that market segment, with ongoing programs and the “aggressive pursuit” of new defense, federal government and foreign military sales.

Asked if he thought the current turmoil affecting much of the Middle East might adversely affect helicopter sales, Orsi answered, “Whatever government comes to power will need helicopters.”

He also expressed plans for AgustaWestland to move into the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market, one of the fastest-growing military market segments. The initial aircraft, Orsi said, will be based on the Swidnik SW-4 light turbine single, with a first unmanned flight planned in 2012.

The need for helicopters–civil or military–will only grow in coming years. With that as a consideration, Orsi announced that AgustaWestland, at the request of European aviation authorities, has begun developing a vision of vertical lift aviation through 2050. The document is to be completed before this summer.

Orsi emphasized the importance of looking forward in the long term and expressed the belief that vertical flight will only gain in importance as airports become more congested and room for expansion dwindles. Not to make use of the advantages of vertical lift, he said, “is unthinkable.” Doing so might double the capacity of a regional airport, he declared, pointing out that by 2050, 50-passenger helicopters are a possibility.

In the short term, Orsi said AgustaWestland is assisting in development of two new city-center heliports in Milan. Part of this is an effort to create a new public image that the helicopter is not only for emergencies, but a normal and necessary means of public transport.

This attention to the future of vertical flight is not something we should do, he concluded, “but something we must do.”