Italian authority certifies AB139

 - July 30, 2008, 10:52 AM

In a surprise move at last month’s Paris Air Show, the much anticipated Bell/Agusta Aerospace AB139 received its type certification from the Italian aeronautical authority, ENAC, which also approved IFR operations. Presentation of the new airworthiness certification accompanied the appointment of company veteran Louis Bartolotta as new managing director of Bell/ Agusta Aerospace, the corporate entity that will produce the new medium twin on both sides of the Atlantic. FAA certification is pending.

Among the first AB139 deliveries will be two slated for Evergreen International of McMinnville, Ore., which plans to use the beefy helo for utility and offshore operations.

In Vergiate, Italy, a few miles from Cascina Costa, Agusta has begun final assembly of the seventh AB139 while the first two prototypes are continuing flight tests in Italy. The first production models are also entering assembly, with deliveries expected to begin in the final quarter of this year. Amply powered by a pair of 1,679-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-67Cs, the AB139 can tote a 5,500-pound payload up to 400 nm.

The third AB139 prototype, has been tasked as the avionics certification ship, with that work progressing at Honeywell’s facility in Phoenix. The AB139 is the first rotorcraft to pack a Honeywell Primus Epic integrated avionics system.

A fourth prototype AB139 was lost in a fatal crash in April last year, an accident that is still under investigation despite the fact that ENAC allowed the AB139 to return to flight tests just two months after the crash.

A Change in Shares

In the weeks before the Paris show, Agusta officials confirmed what has long been rumored in the U.S.–that Agusta officials were negotiating with Bell executives to increase the Italian rotorcraft maker’s stake in the BA609 tiltrotor program, as well as in Bell/Agusta Aerospace, the parent company that oversees the BA609 and AB139 programs. Currently at 25 percent for Agusta and 75 percent for Bell, the BA609 workshare may eventually become “close to 50/50,” Agusta CEO Amedeo Caporaletti said in a recent press briefing. His company has been providing more resources to the BA609 program than expected, as Bell has put more of its own energy into the troubled MV-22 Osprey military tiltrotor.

Agusta’s move is aimed at maintaining the BA609 program schedule and keeping costs within “reasonable limits,” according to Agusta, a phrase widely interpreted to mean that the Italian helo-maker is not thrilled with Bell’s stated intention of letting the BA609 program follow in the footsteps of the nearly decade-overdue Osprey.

As a consequence of its deeper involvement in the BA609 program, Agusta’s share in the jointly held Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. is expected to reach 50 percent within one year, up from today’s 45 percent.

The BA609 made its first flight on March 7 in Arlington, Texas. One of the four prototypes is scheduled to come to Agusta’s test facilities early next year. Certification of the $8 million to $10 million (in 1997 dollars) nine-passenger aircraft is pegged for 2007, at least for now.

The possibility of increasing program workshare was written in the original Bell/Agusta agreement but is subject to negotiations. Leonardo Monti, vice president for commercial sales, believes that the more than four-year  stretch of cooperation has proved to Bell that Agusta is a valuable partner. The AB139 workshare is a reported 60/40 Agusta/Bell split, with talks also reportedly under way to perhaps increase Agusta’s share in that program as well. Once mature, the BA609 and the AB139 medium helicopter should result in a twofold growth in civil sales, Agusta executives hope.

Agusta also announced the commitment to begin a “full training capability” via a subsidiary called Rotorsim, which will have facilities close to Lago Maggiore in the lake country of northern Italy. The new training center is Agusta’s response to Helisim, a Eurocopter subsidiary with similar objectives (AIN, April 2002). The newly formed subsidiary should begin operations in some 18 months. The first simulator at Rotorsim will be for the A109E Power. In the future, an AB139 simulator will be offered as well.