Leonardo Gains Italian Orders To Boost Balance Sheet

 - January 16, 2017, 2:29 AM
The Italian Air Force has ordered the newly-flown M-345 basic jet trainer. (Leonardo)

Boosted by new practical support from the Italian government worth more than €500 million ($532 million), Leonardo reports “all conditions are in place for our next stage—growth,” according to CEO Mauro Moretti. The Italian Ministry of Defence has contracted for the company’s M-345 basic jet trainer, and for development of a new exploration and escort helicopter to replace the AW129 Mangusta. The revamped company also announced the reorganization of its substantial UK activities into a single entity named Leonardo MW Ltd. 

The Italian air force will receive five M-345s toward a total requirement of 45 aircraft that will replace the MB-339 training fleet that was delivered from 1982 and now numbers 137. Pilots will graduate from the single-engine M-345 onto the M-346, Leonardo’s advanced twinjet trainer, 18 of which are on order or in service already. The prototype M-345 made its first flight from Leonardo’s Venegono airfield at Varese on December 30, marking the start of a test campaign that should be completed this year. The company describes the M-345 as a “High Efficiency Trainer” (HET) that offers a significant reduction in acquisition and life-cycle costs compared to those of powerful turboprop trainers, an obvious reference to the rival and very successful Pilatus PC-21. 

The helicopter contract is for design and development, plus a prototype and three initial production machines, toward a total requirement of 48. The Italian acronym for the A129 replacement is NEES. The current fleet of A129s will be retired by 2025 after 35 years in service. The NEES will employ the dynamic system from Leonardo’s AW149/AW189 design, married to a new airframe. This concept offers “greater performance and lower operating costs,” according to the company.   

“The signing of these two contracts is the result of constructive discussions between the Italian government and industry,” Moretti said. “Thanks to this joint understanding, we’ll be able to deliver advanced solutions to our national customer by optimizing available financial resources and developing new technologies, skills and industrial processes in our country.” The Italian government still owns 30 percent of Leonardo, but institutional investors hold more than 50 percent. At a press briefing in London last week, Moretti promised them a 10-percent increase in earnings in 2016, and noted that in the past three years the company’s share value had risen from less than €6 to more than 13 in the past three years.

In the UK, the amalgamation of AgustaWestland Ltd, Selex ES Ltd, Finmeccanica UK Ltd and DRS Technologies UK Ltd will create one of the country’s largest high-tech engineering companies with more than 7,100 employees. Former Selex ES UK boss Norman Bone has been named chairman and managing director of Leonardo MW Ltd. The ‘MW’ is a reference to Marconi and Westland, two of the company’s heritage brands. “We are now able to present a coherent face to our customers and stakeholders,” Bone said. “The UK is Leonardo’s second pillar, and could become the UK’s flagship defense company” Moretti said. The combined turnover of Leonardo MW is £2.3 billion ($2.75 billion), including £1.3 billion ($1.5 billion) of exports.