AgustaWestland CEO Daniele Romiti came to the 2013 Heli-Expo show in Las Vegas less than a week after his sudden appointment to succeed Bruno Spagnolini in the wake of well-publicized allegations of bribery relating to the deal to supply AW101 helicopters to the Indian government. The legal fall-out from this case is still subject to court hearings and government probes but, speaking to AIN ahead of this week’s Heli-Expo in Anaheim, Calif. Romiti was candid in acknowledging that the task of protecting the manufacturer’s reputation was a primary focus for him in his first few months in office. But more recently, he has been able to focus on the multiple new aircraft that AgustaWestland is now bringing to market, including the AW119Kx, the AW169, the AW189 and the AW609 Tiltrotor.
“My goals were very different at the time [in March 2013],” he said. “We had to face quite a challenging period with reputational issues, and this resulted in strong activity to reinforce our internal organization to deal with compliance issues. The new and updated procedures have resulted in a better approach.”
But more profound challenges have been posed by the market itself, with pressure resulting from widespread cuts in military spending and civil customers expecting ever-greater performance and cost effectiveness. “Our response to this challenge has been the dual-use approach for designing helicopters so that we are selling models that are not highly specialized and so they are more economic in terms of the overall cost of operation,” he explained. “The oil and gas sector has been a key driver, and our new product family has been developed to meet all the most stringent requirements coming from these specific markets, and the need for better overall running costs.”
The AW189 medium twin completed initial EASA certification on February 7, allowing deliveries of offshore versions to commence imminently. It is billed as a lower-cost alternative to the Sikorsky S-92A and the Airbus Helicopters EC225.
Along with the smaller AW169, the AW189 had been due to complete certification in 2013. The AW169 is set to get approved by the end of this year, with entry into service projected for the first quarter of 2015.
“With these new platforms you will see how much improved technology we have added, especially in models such as the AW169, which offers a completely new architecture in terms of dynamic components in the rotors and new touchscreen displays in the cockpit,” said Romiti.
AgustaWestland is placing a strong emphasis on the move towards the all-electric aircraft and it expects to add to innovations such as the AW169’s fully electrical landing gear retraction system. “We will target further reductions in fuel consumption and greater simplicity in the architecture,” he said. “We may think about introducing new devices for the tail rotor, and it’s all aimed at having greater reliability of components before aircraft enter production.”
But Romiti gets even more excited when contemplating the dawn of the tiltrotor, which for him represents the real new frontier in terms of technology. “There will be a fundamentally new application here because we are targeting a very attractive price for very complex technology, and also the piloting is not too complex due to our autopilot and auto-management systems. This is our DNA,” he stated. “I am quite convinced that when the tiltrotor gets into the mindset of operators they will realize how it can meet their future needs. They will be able to fly over clouds and bad weather in a pressurized cabin. And speed will be a key factor for applications such as EMS [emergency medical service] and SAR [search and rescue] because they can fly twice the speed of a normal helicopter and also fly for longer and hover.”
In his view, customers are still barely aware of the tiltrotor’s full potential. “We are convinced that once it is operationally available they will discover what they can do with it and they will realize that they cannot miss this opportunity,” said Romiti, adding that the hybrid aircraft will be especially advantageous in places where ground infrastructure is limited.
AgustaWestland’s new leader said that in addition to the booming oil and gas sector, both the SAR and EMS markets have seen strong demand. He has also been pleasantly surprised by prospects among VIP clients, and especially for the large AW101 model. In geographical terms he highlighted the “exceptional” growth in the Far East and also in South America. o