Singapore Air Show

AgustaWestland overhauls avionics, maintenance and training for new helicopter family

 - February 14, 2012, 5:30 PM
AgustaWestland AW139 on helipad in Hong Kong.

AgustaWestland has stepped up its product portfolio with the unveiling earlier this week of its New Generation Helicopter Family, consisting of the existing A109 Grand New and AW139 flagships and the in-development AW169 and AW189 models.

The strategy is clear. AgustaWestland wants to give operators options to build their fleet through the different weight classes it will soon cover.

This week brought new sales across the product family with the manufacturer’s Japanese distributor Mitsui Bussan Aerospace ordering four more AW139s. Two of these are intended for unspecified civil customers and the other pair will be operated by the Japan National Police Agency.

On Monday, the Bond Aviation Group signed a framework agreement calling for 15 new helicopters, with 10 under firm order and five as options. The deal will comprise a mix of AW169, AW139 and AW189 models.

Mindful of the example set in the fixed-wing world by Airbus, AgustaWestland’s engineers have been placing a renewed emphasis on offering common technology across the family to give operators greater flexibility and efficiency in both crew training and maintenance. The commonality is particularly apparent in the cockpit, but also in key components such as gearboxes and rotorheads.

At the same time, technological innovation–particularly in the cockpit–is to be made more readily available to existing operators through software-enabled upgrades. A prime example of this is new Phase 7 version of Honeywell’s Primus Epic avionics suite for the AW139, which was announced on Sunday at the HeliExpo show in Dallas, Texas (see avionics box).

According to AgustaWestland’s new CEO Bruno Spagnolini, the company is keeping to schedule in development work for both the AW169 and the AW189, while also staying mindful to ensure that these new types deliver their promised performance parameters on entry into service. First to arrive on the market will be the AW189, which is set to complete certification–in its offshore configuration–during the second half of 2013. The AW169 is to follow during the second half of 2014.

Over the past couple of years, existing customers–most notably leading offshore operators–have been helping AgustaWestland to define both new designs, with the manufacturer collecting an unspecified number of nonrefundable deposits. One of these operators is Malaysia’s WestStar, which recently placed orders for a mix of AW169s and AW189s, having already introduced the A139.

In Spagnolini’s view, AgustaWestland came of age as a helicopter maker with the introduction of the AW139. “It really boosted our credibility, and one of the main lessons we learned for the 189 and the 169 is to develop all the avionics ourselves so that we can develop modifications through software more flexibly and more cheaply,” he commented.

Another lesson learned with the 139 is the importance of being ready with complete training packages, including full-flight simulators, in time for new models to enter service. This was not achieved for the 139, causing service-entry holdups for operators, but, working with CAE, simulators for the 189 and 169 are already in the works and should be ready in time for certification.

As part of the certification process, AgustaWestland is working to convince the European Aviation Safety Agency of the high degree of commonality between the new types. Many aspects of the technical publications will be the same, which should be reflected in a high degree of crossover in operational requirements and training.

“If you want to have a mixed fleet, you will find that the interiors and much of the equipment [between the 189 and the 169] is exactly the same,” Spagnolini told AIN. “For instance, if you want to move from having 12 to 16 passengers with the 189, you can simply exchange some seats from the 169 cabin. It’s a completely modular approach and we believe we are the only manufacturer offering this.”

The company has also been stepping up its commitment to providing a completely comprehensive level of support throughout the operational life of its aircraft. The aim is that this approach should be evident at every stage in its relationship with clients, from product definition, through the sales process, to aircraft delivery, training, maintenance and spares support (see boxes).

This more holistic approach based on a more meaningful sense of partnership with clients was inspired by the more cost-sensitive needs of the larger, more commercially driven operators who bought the AW139. It expects to attract more operators like those as it introduces the AW189, offering greater payload and range to sectors such as the oil and gas industry, which is now very much in growth mode.