Paris Air Show

Alenia Aeronautica awaits imminent B787 first flight

 - June 16, 2009, 2:13 AM

Alenia Aeronautica is one of three companies within the Italian Finmeccanica group that deal with fixed-wing aircraft production. The others are Alenia Aermacchi, which is also active in both commercial and military aircraft, and Superjet International, the joint venture with Russia’s Sukhoi in the regional jet business. The company is eagerly awaiting the imminent maiden flight of the Boeing 787, which will open a new phase in the program.

“The Dreamliner is very important for us, as we produce the center and the central-rear fuselage sections, as well as the horizontal stabilizer, adding up to 14 percent of the overall structure,” Giovanni Bertolone, Alenia Aeronautica’s CEO, told AIN. Moreover Global Aeronautica, the 50-50 joint venture between Alenia North America, wholly controlled by Alenia Aeronautica and Boeing, is responsible for assembly, integration and testing activities on over 60 percent of the fuselage. “Despite the difficulties [well-documented delays to the program], which are usual for a wholly innovative project,” Bertolone added, “Alenia Aeronautica continued to produce on time and on quality all the aircraft components for which it is responsible.”

Significant progress was made just before the Paris Air Show, with the 787 prototype having been subjected to a series of tough static, structural and system integration tests. The powerplant was also tested, with the first engine runs marking the first all-electric start of a twin-aisle commercial jetliner engine.

Alenia Aeronautica has made large investments in the composites material field, aimed particularly at the 787 but also targeted at civil and military aircraft production. In addition, it has patented some innovative production processes. “Our success is based on technology and innovation, which are key factors for competitiveness. Therefore our research-and-development investments have a vital role in keeping us at the forefront,” Bertolone said. “Having won the composites bid, we are now looking at the integration of complex systems and at the unmanned aerial systems.” Bertolone revealed that the company has invested heavily in the UAS sector, based on “market estimates forecasting that the value of the UAS business in Europe between 2010 and 2020 should reach ?5 billion, a sum that could double in the following ten years, reaching ?45 billion worldwide by 2030.”

Its Sky-X UCAV technology demonstrator first flew in 2005 and is being used for testing, which might be of use in the nEUROn multinational European program. In 2008, this UAS carried out a join-up maneuver with another aircraft simulating in-flight refueling in fully autonomous mode, performing a world first. A second platform, the Sky-Y, is a dual-use medium- altitude long-endurance (MALE) system.

“In the MALE/HALE segment we currently find only U.S. and Israeli products, but I strongly believe Europe must be a player in that field,” Bertolone said. “This system must achieve both military and civil certification to be allowed to fly in civil airspace. Alenia Aeronautica is working closely with ENAC, the Italian civil aviation authority, to achieve this.”

Apart from the European initiative for the nEUROn, Alenia Aeronautica’s CEO considers that other partnerships in this field are possible and desirable, and that sharing technologies, investments and human resources is one of the best ways to succeed in new projects. This is true not only with external partners but inside the Finmeccanica group as well, he said, pointing out that Alenia Aeronautica has created strong synergies with its sister companies in that field.

Two major fighter programs involve Alenia Aeronautica–the Eurofighter and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. “The four Eurofighter partner nations have come to an agreement signed by the four political representatives that gives the green light to Tranche 3, with a first subtranche–Tranche 3A–that foresees the manufacture of 112 aircraft,” Bertolone said. Procedures and timing for Tranche 3B will be established later, and although Bertolone confirmed the target of an overall total of 236 aircraft for Tranche 3, other sources seem less certain that this number will be reached.

As for the JSF, the two military committees of the U.S. House of Representatives and of the Senate agreed to the acquisition of 131 F-35s and to the build-up of the national final assembly and check out/maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade line. “This marks an important step for the program in which Alenia Aeronautica will play a significant role, in the wing, as well as other high-precision components production and final assembly,” Bertolone explained, adding that full Italian parliamentary agreement on the required budget for the Italian defense industry is still being negotiated.