“The Middle East remains a very important market for AgustaWestland,” said CEO Daniele Romiti on the eve of this year’s Dubai Airshow. “It is a challenging market, where personal relationships have a great importance,” he added.
For both civil and military segments, the key location for AgustaWestland in this region is Abu Dhabi, where the helicopter manufacturer established AgustaWestland Aviation Services in late 2011. The company is a joint venture with Abu Dhabi Aviation in which the local company holds a 70 percent stake while AgustaWestland holds the remaining 30 percent. Services include the sale of helicopter spare parts and accessories, helicopter and component repair and overhaul, customization, modification and upgrades.
AgustaWestland has lowered its AOG case closure time by 10 percent in the past 12 months. While the cases were closed under the 24-hour limit, the company is working towards a target of 12 hours.
AgustaWestland’s new motto is “Think Customer,” and the company said that aftersales support is one of its key goals for achieving optimal customer satisfaction. Training is also of key importance, and AgustaWestland has partnered with Abu Dhabi Aviation and Mubadala to provide training services in the UAE. A CAE 3000 AW139 Level D full flight simulator will be available in the coming months.
Meanwhile in Qatar, Gulf Helicopter is now an AgustaWestland authorized training center. Delivery of an AW139 Level B full flight simulator is expected soon, reflecting the high level of sales of the AW139 in the area.
Here at the show AgustaWestland is displaying mock-ups of its AW189 and AW169 helicopters. The AW189 fits the needs of oil and gas companies that need a helicopter capable of carrying a large number of passengers and flying to many rigs before returning back to base. Four AW189 prototypes and two pre-production versions plus the first production helicopter are flying in Italy. AW189 certification is imminent with deliveries expected to begin by the end of this year. The eight-ton helicopter has already garnered more than 80 orders, most of them from the oil and gas sector, with more than a quarter ordered by Middle East operators.
As for the AW169, AgustaWestland considers that in the Middle East this machine is a perfect complement to the Grand/GrandNew in the VIP helicopter category. Certification should be obtained in mid-2014, and more than 100 AW169s have been ordered globally. The militarized version, the AW169M, could be the answer to a range of light military applications to replace aging singles and twins. The military AW149, also an eight-ton helicoper, should also be certified in 2014.
Looking at higher weights, the three-engine AW101 is becoming popular in the VVIP market, and the Middle East is one of the areas with great potential for the AW101, believes the company.
The AW609 tiltrotor is progressing, with certification forecast in 2017, followed by entry into service in 2018. The AW609 was developed in a venture with Bell Helicopter but is now fully in the hands of AgustaWestland. The latest configuration ws flown a few days before the Dubai Airshow at AgustaWestland’s plant in Vergiate, Italy, in front of a delegation that seemed impressed by the AW609’s capabilities. Its capacity to fly at twice the speed, twice the height and twice the range of a standard helicopter puts it in a unique category, and this should be a strong selling point for VVIP/corporate transport in the Middle East.
Certifying this new type of rotorcraft is particularly challenging and new requirements are being drafted to complement FAA Part 27 and Part 29 regulations. This will also need to be done for pilot certification.
“We currently have two prototypes flying, number one in Texas to cope with FAA certification and number two in Cascina Costa,” said AW609 program manager Clive Scott. Components for aircraft number three at the Cascina Costa experimental hangar were slated to be moved to Vergiate, in line with the company philosophy of assembling final prototypes in the production facility to ease the transition to production.
AW609 No. 3 will be used for icing trials and will fly in July 2014. No. 4 will be the production representative prototype and will be equipped with production avionics and should fly in 2015. Over the past two years the AW609 prototypes logged more 300 flight hours, which brought the total to some 870 hours. AgustaWestland intends to complete flight testing by the end of 2013; about 30 to 40 hours still need to be flown. Remaining tests that the U.S.-based prototype will fly include autorotation trials.
After taking over the program, AgustaWestland engineers made some key modifications to the AW609 design. “The vertical fin has a reduced chord,” said AgustaWestland chief project engineer Silvano Scorbati, “while the engine exhausts were extended to modify the flow, and vortex generators were installed to reduce stall speed.” The current configuration delivers 10 percent less drag while structural weight was decreased by nearly 250 kilograms (550 pounds). The most significant change to the AW609 is the adoption of the new Rockwell Collins Fusion touch-screen flight deck, which adds commonality with other helicopters in the AgustaWestland family.
“Operationally speaking,” said program manager Scott, “we do not consider the AW609 in competition with helicopters but rather a turboprop that does not need to operate from airfields.” The AW609’s maximum takeoff weight (mtow) is rated at 7,620 kilograms (16,800 pounds) in vertical mode, but in extreme-short takeoff mode the mtow can increase to 8,164 kilograms (18,000 pounds) with a takeoff speed of 40 knots.
The AW609 carries nine passengers plus a crew of two in the standard configuration, or six passengers in the corporate version. For air-ambulance operations, two stretchers can be carried. Currently AgustaWestland has more than 50 purchase agreements for VIP, offshore, corporate and government configurations of the AW609 tiltrotor.