Bristow Group strongly signaled its intention to be a leading customer and operator for AgustaWestland’s AW609 civil tiltrotor. The Houston-based company’s CEO Jonathan Baliff said today at Heli-Expo 2015 that it was “absolutely” committed to ordering the AgustaWestland AW609 civil tiltrotor and said the size of the order “won't be in the single digits. I expect to see this aircraft in five to 10 years as big a part of our fleet as [Sikorsky] S-76s and S-92s.”
Bristow signed a wide-ranging memorandum of understanding (MoU) with AgustaWestland here at Heli-Expo yesterday characterized as a “platform development agreement” for AW609 oil and gas and search-and-rescue variants. The agreement provides a framework for the two companies to share technical information and expertise in areas including operations, regulations, maintenance, configuration optimization, enhancements and modifications.
Baliff also said that Bristow would provide some pilots, all the civilian training and invest in simulators for the AW609 development program. The agreement does not contain any orders for the aircraft from Bristow, but Baliff left no doubt that Bristow would be a collaborator and a customer.
Formal orders for Bristow’s AW609s are expected in 2017. AgustaWestland anticipates certification for the AW609 that same year and customer deliveries beginning in 2018.
“This is a multi-year MOU we are signing,” said Baliff. “This just isn't two years. This is a heavy commitment involving millions of dollars and significant personnel before the aircraft gets purchased. Are we going to purchase these? Absolutely, we are going to purchase these. But it is still getting certified and AgustaWestland is making us the exclusive customer for operation in hostile environments in the initial development stage. We're going to get a leap by being the exclusive provider in hostile environments.
“This changes the whole logistics supply chain for our clients,” Baliff continued. “With this we can fly clients straight from London to [an energy] rig [in the North Sea]. This is going to be the air medevac aircraft of choice. You have to get injured workers off the rigs within the golden hour. This aircraft allows a level of safety and certainty. It flies above the weather and has speed and range.”
A Bristow spokesman said the company found the AW609 attractive, given its customers’ growing demand for point-to-point transportation solutions particularly those that combine the attributes of fixed- and rotary-wing transportation. Bristow recently invested in two regional airlines, Eastern Airways in the U.K. and Australia’s Airnorth, in response to customer needs for seamless transportation.
AgustaWestland announced on March 2 that the AW609 civil tiltrotor will be manufactured at its plant in Philadelphia, Pa. and that most flight test activity will be moving to the U.S. The manufacturer also revealed significant payload and range improvements for the 609 that could potentially give it an MTOW equal to or in excess of 17,500 pounds in STOL or running takeoffs and a standard maximum range without reserves of 750 nm, 1,100 nm with auxiliary fuel tanks. Maximum cruise speed will remain at 275 knots at 25,000 feet.
The aircraft’s program manager, Clive Scott, said he expects the 609 to be priced comparable to a conventional super-medium helicopter when customer deliveries begin in 2018 after anticipated FAA certification in late 2017. Scott expects a price to be announced by year’s end. He said a speculated price of $24 million “was not far off.”