Leonardo Delivers 1,000th AW139

 - September 20, 2019, 9:16 AM
Italy's Guardia di Finanza took delivery of the 1,000th copy of the AW139, and manufacturer Leondardo sees a strong market for the model in both civil and military applications. (Photo: Ian Sheppard)

Leonardo Helicopters delivered the 1,000th example of its AW139 to Italian law enforcement agency Guardia di Finanza today at an event at its Vergiate, Italy production plant near Milan. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboshaft engines and co-produced in Vergiate and Philadelphia, the AW139 is now in operation with 280 operators in 70 countries and has attracted a total order book of more than 1,100 units.

“We’re celebrating an extraordinary moment for the global helicopter industry," said Leonardo Helicopters managing director Gian Piero Cutillo. The AW139 "has really strengthened our identity in producing helicopters and has set new standards.”

Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo told those gathered for the celebration, which included a display by an AW139 and an AW609 tiltrotor prototype, that it was “a huge milestone…the company had hoped [at launch] to sell 400 and now it’s 1,000…in 15 years…and the order book is packed.”

He committed to continue to develop the product to stay ahead of coming competition, looking forward to the 2,000th or even 3,000th AW139 delivery. “We now have 25 percent of the market for twin-engine helicopters,” he said. “It is our duty to continue flying the flag for Italy.”

Profumo also said military variants are now well under way. “Last year we won a tender for the U.S. Department of Defense for 84 AW139s with Boeing as prime contractor,” which will be designated as the MH139. The first four examples would be delivered by the end of next year's first quarter.

Noting that it is unusual for any peacetime aircraft or helicopter to reach the 1,000 mark, Guardia di Finanza commandant general Giuseppe Zafarana said the success of the AW139 shows "the company was able to anticipate the market needs and become a trendsetter.” He said the Guardia placed its first AW139 order in 2010 and a further order in 2019, making a total of 22. “We have developed a top-notch partnership with Leonardo and it is an example of what Italy can achieve.”

In a briefing on the program, Leonardo Helicopters senior v-p strategy and innovation Roberto Garavaglia said the first AW139 was unveiled at the 1999 Paris Air Show, initially as the AB139 while Bell was still involved. It made its first flight on Feb. 3, 2001, leading to certification and first delivery in 2004 at a maximum takeoff weight of 6.4 tonnes (14,110 pounds)—increased later to 7 tonnes.

“So here we are after 20 years and three months later and these are just the first 1,000,” reflected Garavaglia, who said that geographically the main regions are Europe at 29 percent of the fleet and Asia/Australasia at 27 percent. The Americas account for 15 percent. In terms of application, the offshore oil and gas market accounts for 33 percent; EMS/SAR, 17 percent; and government/law enforcement, 14 percent.

He recalled the reception by early customers such as Bristow and Shell who were astounded that it could remain airborne on only one engine, which accounts for its almost 100 percent market share in the Middle East, for example. He claimed that to this day it’s the only helicopter that complies with what was then FAA Part 29 Amendment 45 for transport helicopters, because its competitors avoid this by being variants of models established before the standard was introduced. AW139 operators, he said, like the capability to carry 1,600 to 1,700 kg of fuel, which yields an endurance of more than four hours plus reserves.