HAI Convention News

AgustaWestland Poised for Oil Boom

 - March 5, 2013, 5:30 PM

AgustaWestland’s new CEO, Daniele Romiti, met the press here at Heli-Expo Monday night just days after his appointment by parent company Finmeccanica.

Notwithstanding current problems at Finmeccanica, Romiti stressed that his company has a bright future and is well-positioned to take advantage of the coming deepwater offshore oil boom by offering the marketplace a family of medium twin helicopters in the four- to eight-ton range led by the in-production AW139, which now has sold more than 700 copies. Two other helicopters, the AW189 and the AW169, are planned for certification this year and next, respectively, and will offer customers a “family” of medium twins ideally tailored for both the offshore energy industry and well as the parapublic and executive/VIP markets. Orders for the new aircraft now stand at 70 and 60, respectively.

In a related development, AW revealed that it had successfully demonstrated to EASA the AW189’s ability to operate for 50 minutes following a loss of lubrication to the main gear box (MGB), giving it an extra margin of safety for offshore oil operations and surpassing the current 30-minute run-dry requirement for the industry. The result was achieved through a design that allows for the distribution of residual oil in the MGB.

Guiseppe Gasparini, AW head of transmission systems, called the result “outstanding.” A subsequent gearbox teardown revealed minor damage to components, but Gasparini said that overall “they were in very good shape.”

Development Programs on Course

AW also continues to make progress on the AW609 civil tiltrotor program. In 2011, AW assumed full ownership of the program from former partner Bell Helicopter and work is continuing to bring that aircraft to market by 2017, with a third prototype currently under construction in Italy. Romiti said that the tiltrotor had successfully flown 90 percent of its flight envelope and stressed that AW is refining the design of that aircraft to improve performance and reduce costs. He dismissed speculation that its unit price would bump up against $30 million. However, he would not provide an estimated price for the aircraft, now in its third decade of development.

Romiti takes his post during a particularly difficult time for his company as it shepherds six new helicopter development programs (four civil, two military); can no longer rely on receiving the full proceeds of development loans pledged by the financially stressed Italian government; has seen the debt rating of parent company Finmeccanica reduced to junk status; and finds itself dealing from the fallout from an international bribery scandal that led to the February 12 arrest of his predecessor Bruno Spagnoligni, who was relieved of his duties by the Finmeccanica board on February 21.

While parent company Finmeccanica struggles to divest itself of unprofitable, non-core assets, Romiti emphasized that AW remains profitable and has the financial resources to fully fund all of its ongoing development programs. The company also is continuing to form international partnerships, most recently with Embraer in Brazil, as a vehicle to increase sales and fund growth. For the first three quarters of 2012, AW posted revenues of €2.97 billion, a profit margin of 11.4 percent, and an estimated order backlog worth €11.56 billion.

Fielding questions on the topic, Romiti vigorously defended his company’s reputation with regard to the international bribery scandal involving the sale of 12 AW101 heavy helicopters to the government of India. Romiti pledged “full transparency” in the ongoing investigations and expressed confidence that AW ultimately would be exonerated. “There has been no wrong-doing by the company and we are confident of that,” he said.