AgustaWestland sees Asia getting even better

 - February 20, 2008, 2:37 AM

Asia accounted for about 20 percent of AgustaWestland’s orders last year and the European helicopter maker therefore sees the region as a growing market. The booming Chinese economy is a big factor in this assessment, as is the European helicopter maker’s presence in the People’s Republic through an expanding relationship with the Chinese aerospace industry.

In 1999, AgustaWestland signed an agreement with China’s AVIC II group, which led to the creation of the Jiangxi Changhe-AgustaWestland Helicopter (CAH) joint venture in 2005. At its Jingdezhen facility, in the Jianxi province, the company produces, under license, the CA109 Power–the Chinese version of the AW109 Power–at a rate of two aircraft per month.

Several AW109 Powers have been in service since 2004 with various Chinese police forces. Last July, one was delivered to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, which will use it for law enforcement during the Olympics this year.

Meanwhile, the company expects to deliver the first Chinese-built CA109 Power in the next few weeks. It will be operated by CCTV of China to provide air coverage of the Olympic Games. Last month, AgustaWestland signed a contract for two AW109 Powers with China’s Maritime Safety Administration, which will use them to combat water pollution.

The larger AW139 is starting to gain a foothold in China. One of these–flying alongside several AW/CA109s with the Beijing Security Bureau–will provide security cover for the Olympics. The medium twin also is finding acceptance in the commercial transport sector, with Hong Kong-based Heli Express having ordered seven last year to provide services in China’s Pearl River Delta.

In December, AgustaWestland appointed the King Express Group Ltd. as its official distributor for Honk Kong and Macau. The three-year agreement includes an initial order for nine helicopters, including AW119Ke, AW109 Power, Grand and AW139 models.

AgustaWestland is active in military rotorcraft markets in other parts of Asia, such as Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand and India. In Japan, where the company plans to open a commercial office this year, it has gained some success with the Maritime Self Defense Force and the police force, which has signed distribution agreements with Mitsui Bussan Aerospace and Kaigai Aviotech Corp. The Japanese Coast Guard recently selected the AW139 for search-and-rescue missions, an initial order for three of them marking the first phase of a replacement program that should lead to a total purchase of 24.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency is also considering the AW139 for medium-range search-and-rescue missions. According to the manufacturer, negotiations for an initial batch of three helicopters are at an advanced stage and a further nine could be ordered later.

AgustaWestland also intends to bid for the replacement of the Malaysian air force’s Sea King S-61A4 helicopters, offering the AW101 as an alternative to the Eurocopter EC 725. The manufacturer expects a decision to be made by the middle of this year, which should result in a first batch of 12 helicopters being ordered for delivery beginning in 2010; the total number of potential orders is unknown. The company also expects to provide the Royal Malaysian Navy additional Super Lynx 300 maritime multipurpose helicopters as a follow-up to a first order for six.

In respond to rising South Korean demand for civil helicopters, in December AgustaWestland appointed United Industry International as its distributor there. The multi-year agreement includes an initial order for four AW139s to be delivered through 2010.

AgustaWestland intends to increase its presence in India, mainly with its Grand and AW139 models, with the appointment of the Bombay-based OSS Air as service center for its civil helicopters. The company also has bid the AW101 as a prospective replacement for the Mi-8 helicopters flown by the Indian air force’s VVIP squadron. The three-engine aircraft is competing against Sikorsky’s H-92, Eurocopter’s Cougar and the Russian Mi-17, with the announcement of a preferred bidder expected around the middle of this year.