Italian airframer plans helo upgrades

 - September 24, 2008, 7:16 AM

AgustaWestland has announced a weight upgrade and Russian assembly plans for the AW139 medium twin, while new helicopter models are in development and a series of efforts is launched in customer support.

The Anglo-Italian manufacturer has signed a “heads of agreement” with Russian-based Oboronprom for the joint final assembly of the AW139 medium twin in a still-to-be-built factory near Moscow. According to Oboronprom director general Andrey Reus, plans call for a production rate of 24 helicopters a year.

Both companies aim to have a Russian-assembled AW139 on the market in 2010. The cooperation plans they revealed in May are thus taking shape quickly. “The ‘heads of agreement’ is the last step before a detailed agreement; we are still discussing workshares, territories and so on,” Reus explained at the Farnborough airshow in mid-July.

An upgraded variant of the AW139, with mtow increased by 880 pounds to 15,000 pounds, is under development to double range. With 12 passengers and 30-minute reserves, the AW139 will be able to fly some 300 nm, compared with the current 150 nm.

The higher mtow will be offered as an option on new helicopters and for retrofit. According to the manufacturer, the change will not affect component TBO, and the companies are seeking to “minimize the impact on maintenance, procedures and operating costs.” Category A/Class 1 for takeoff will be retained, AgustaWestland promises. EASA certification is pegged for late this year, with FAA certification following shortly thereafter.

When asked about the improved-performance variant of the Grand–the SP version–AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi, said only that, “we always work to upgrade our products, but we do not introduce them until they are ready.” He added that BERP IV technology, now available on the AW101 medium/heavy three-engine helicopter, will “sometime, somehow” be introduced to other AgustaWestland models.

Another project in the offing is the XX9, a 9,000-pound-class light twin that the company is developing for the commercial, government and military markets. It will fill a gap between the 7,000-pound Grand and the 15,000-pound AW139 and compete with the Bell 430.

AgustaWestland has launched three parallel efforts in customer support. First, in response to fleet growth and to improve responsiveness, it has networked its logistic centers in Italy, Belgium and the U.S. with new centers in Malaysia and Brazil. Logistic centers supply 60 authorized service centers. AgustaWestland is to open one such service center in Russia.

Second, the company has hired customer service managers for specific regions to be the coordinator and point of contact for operators. So far, about 20 CSMs have been appointed.

Finally, AgustaWestland now regularly organizes dedicated seminars and conferences. Recent events include an operators’ conference in Valencia, Spain, in May and an oil and gas seminar in Singapore in June. Operators’ conferences are planned every year, and the next venues are likely to be in the Middle East or Asia.
AgustaWestland’s production plans call for ramping up from 128 helicopters in 2005 to 260 in 2010.