Agusta to build Koalas in Philly

 - March 30, 2007, 9:54 AM

AgustaWestland recently disclosed it is moving production of the A119 Koala single-engine helicopter from Italy to Philadelphia. Flanked by Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell and local politicians, company officials broke ground on March 2 on a manufacturing and final assembly plant at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, where about 20 Koalas will be built each year.

Seeking a U.S. label for a helicopter that is popular with law-enforcement and medevac operators across the country, the move is part of a broader strategy to increase helicopter production and sales in North America, according to Giuseppe Orsi, Agusta’s managing director. The Koala plant, he said, is scheduled to be up and running by this fall.

Agusta will spend about $12 million to expand and modernize the Philadelphia plant, including $6.8 million for a new 40,000-sq-ft assembly factory next to the current facility. The company is also seeking stronger ties with its U.S. partner, Textron, which could see an expansion of Bell/Agusta Aerospace, responsible for the BA609 tiltrotor and AB139 medium-twin helicopter.

The A119 production announcement comes as a consortium led by Lockheed Martin and including AgustaWestland, Bell and Kaman competes with Sikorsky on the bid to provide the next presidential helicopter, Marine One. The Lockheed consortium and Sikorsky submitted bids for the project earlier this year. A decision is expected in May or June. The Lockheed team has presented the U.S. version of the EH-101, known as the US-101. It hopes to dethrone Sikorsky, which has built helicopters for every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower. Sikorsky has presented the Pentagon with a presidential version of the S-92.