AgustaWestland (AW) continues to see promise for commercial sales growth throughout South America. It is making new moves to expand and improve customer support throughout the region, which represents 10-15 percent of the Europe-based manufacturer’s commercial business worldwide and where there are more than 200 of its helicopters are currently flying. That number includes 30 medium twin AW139s presently flying for offshore operators in Brazil. The company also notes that there are orders for more than 50 of its AW109 Grand and GrandNew light twins to be used to fly VIP/corporate and passenger transport operations in Brazil.
To support this growing fleet, immediate plans call for construction of a new and larger support and maintenance facility near São Paulo with a larger parts stock later this year, while concurrently shifting Brazil-based support of customers in Spanish-speaking countries throughout the area, including Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, to AW’s Philadelphia plant in the U.S. AW Philadelphia employs Spanish-speaking tech reps and already supports Mexico.
Bob Brant, AW vice president of the Americas commercial business unit, sees the economies of Brazil and other countries throughout the region “coming back,” noting an uptick of interest in new helicopter purchases this year. “We’ve got reasonable activity. It hasn’t been as prolific as the past three or four years. But using recent interest and activity as a litmus test, I am seeing a positive climb at the moment. We have a lot of projects working and we are working to close them,” Brant said. “We see South America in general as a great opportunity and Brazil is one of the biggest helicopter markets in the world. We are committed to expanding our presence throughout the continent.”
Demand for the new 4.6-metric-ton AW169 4.6 medium twin is strong throughout the region, particularly in Brazil, where 20 in corporate configuration have been ordered. The high-altitude capabilities of the new AW109 Trekker light twin also has captured customer attention, according to Brant.
The first Trekker prototype will fly later this year. AW recently selected Genesys as the avionics supplier for the aircraft. With a maximum takeoff weight of 7,000-lb (3,175 kg), the Trekker features skid landing gear, two Fadec-equipped Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207C 815-shp engines, a maximum cruising speed of 154 kts, a 445 nm maximum range, and room for up six passengers. It will be manufactured at AW Philadelphia.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) granted certification approval for the AW169 on June 15. The type features a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW-210A Fadec-controlled engines (1,000 shp each) and Rockwell Collins glass panel touchscreen avionics with capabilities that include a four-axis digital automatic flight control system (DAFCS) and dual Flight Management System (FMS). It will be approved for single-pilot IFR (SPIFR) operations.
AW169s are equipped with a variable speed main rotor, which improves efficiency and reduces the external noise and it is the first helicopter in its category to enter the market with an electric retractable landing gear. It is designed to be compatible with the MSG-3 maintenance process. Top cruising speed is 155 knots and the AW169 has a maximum range of 431 nm. The 222-cu.-ft. cabin can accommodate 7-10 passengers.
The first units will be delivered from AW’s plant in Vergiate, Italy and a second AW169 assembly line will open at AW Philadelphia later this year. More than 150 AW169s have been ordered worldwide to date.
Brant said regional customer interest between the AW109 and AW169 is breaking roughly at a rate of 60-40. While offshore oil and gas support customers have expressed interest in the new, certified super-medium AW189 and the AW609 civil tiltrotor, slated for certification in late 2017, the worldwide downturn in the energy sector has put on damper on orders; however, eight AW189s are currently on order in the region and more AW139s, including those operated by OGP helicopter service company Era, are flying in Colombia as oil and gas activity expands in that country.
The AW609 is expected to do particularly well in the region once introduced. “We are getting an increase of interest in the 609 in throughout the region,” Brant noted, including from oil and gas production companies that serve Brazil’s partially state-owned oil giant, Petrobras. “We have presented the 609 to Petrobras,” Brant said. “It is something they are interested in.” An AW spokesman said the AW609 in particular could be a real game-changer in the Brazilian market, citing its ability to fly from a rooftop helipad in the center of São Paulo to the center of Rio de Janeiro in just 50 minutes.
The AW609 will be manufactured at AW Philadelphia beginning in 2017 and most flight test activities associated with the aircraft will be relocated there this year. Recently revised performance numbers now give the 609 a maximum takeoff weight equal to or in excess of 17,500 pounds in short-take off and landing or running takeoffs and a standard maximum range without reserves of 750 nm, or 1,100 nm with auxiliary fuel tanks. Maximum cruise speed will remain 275 knots at 25,000 feet.
Overall performance is better due to greater-than-expected benefits from ground effect, and recent aerodynamic improvements that reduced weight and cut drag by 10 percent. AW609 program manager Clive Scott said he expects the aircraft to be priced at levels comparable to a conventional super-medium helicopter.
The AW609 features Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion touchscreen avionics and Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67A engines. Recent design refinements include a new main cabin door that features a two-piece clamshell design with an integrated step. It is 35 inches wide and lighter than the one-piece door it replaces. This will allow the AW609 to be manufactured with the same door regardless of mission kit–SAR, EMS and VIP transport.
Other recent modifications to the original aircraft include changes to the air data computers and inertial reference platforms, an updated version of the fly-by-wire software, an upgraded flight control system, an automatic test system and a new pitot-static system, which now uses the same system installed on the AW139 medium twin.