Agusta moves A119 Koala to expanded Pennsylvania facility

 - February 7, 2007, 8:34 AM

On October 29, AgustaWestland introduced the A119 Koala at its new home in Philadelphia, which includes 43,000 sq ft of hangars, avionics bays, manufacturing and completion space. The new facility, which hugs the suburban Northeast Philadelphia Airport, was built in a record seven months for $6.8 million, while employees trained in Vergiate, Italy. Total investment, including relocation, will exceed $12 million.

“We are proud to announce that the Koala ‘One-One-Nine’ is becoming a citizen of America,” said Giuseppe Orsi, managing director of Agusta SpA. “We are providing superior and technologically advanced aircraft for our customers’ missions, whether those be emergency response, law enforcement, executive transport or fighting the war on terror.” AgustaWestland reports orders for some 60 A119s, and at least 12 are to be produced in the first year at Philadelphia.

“If anyone is looking for a job, please get in touch,” added Orsi. “We will have at least 50 openings.”

The A119 Koala commanded stage right, outfitted as a law enforcement and homeland security variant. Both the Pennsylvania and New York Police departments have ordered the configuration, and the one on display was painted in NYPD livery.
Despite its top billing, however, the Koala was not the big draw for most of the 500 dignitaries, who had come to Pennsylvania to see the US101, one of two finalists in the bid to replace the Presidential helicopter Marine One. Attendees hovered about the US101, dressed in olive drab but polished to a high luster.

Congressman Curt Weldon, member of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “Today we celebrate insourcing,” noting that 65 percent of the components for the US101 are of American origin.

President Bush, campaigning in the adjacent Bucks County, did not attend, though few other legislators could resist the intersection of a sexy product and the promise of high-skill manufacturing jobs the weekend before Election Day. Two rows of VIPs each took the lectern. The group included a congressional hopeful, the Italian ambassador, Pennsylvania state senators, representatives of the mayor’s office, labor union heads and a dozen chiefs of local fiefdoms. Many were drawn from, or celebrated, the area’s Italian-American heritage.

One of the last dignitaries to be introduced was Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee, which controls some $2.3 trillion of the nation’s wallet. As the ceremony closed, a klaxon sounded, and the vast door unrolled to reveal two more A119 variants, one in livery for JB Air, the other for the U.S. Coast Guard. Behind the stage, an assembly line held four more A119s in various levels, all in the “green” cycle, though for Agustas the primer color is yellow.

And Finmeccanica chairman and CEO Pier Guarguaglini predicted growth for Finmeccanica, which just completed its purchase of the 50-percent share in Agusta-Westland held by GKN.

As of late October, GKN had begun using the cash to repurchase and bolster its own shares, becoming the subject of speculation that it will be taken over by a U.S. defense or aircraft company.

Two-thirds of AgustaWestland’s 20-acre lot at Northeast Philadelphia Airport remains ripe for expansion, to address demand for the eight-seat corporate/VIP and the emergency medical service versions of the A119. The Koala is the latest result of Agusta Aerospace’s 20-year presence in Philadelphia. The line’s latest addition, which may emerge as its most visible, is the Koala military and homeland security variant, which shares much with the A109 light utility helicopter, adding liquid crystal displays and a single  P&WC 1,002-shp turboshaft.