Leonardo Helicopters (B7024) executives talked the state of the market, training, and technology on Monday night at Heli-Expo. Company managing director Gian Piero Cutillo said the beleaguered offshore energy market is improving, but not enough. “Oil and gas is getting better, but I don’t know how positive the signs are. It is a difficult market and I personally don’t believe it will come back to the [high] levels we have seen in the past,” he said. “But who knows?”
Nevertheless, buoyed by 2018 deliveries that increased to 177 from 149 in 2017, Cutillo said Leonardo is spending $65 million to open a new pilot and technician training center in Philadelphia next year that will include full-flight simulators for the AW139, AW169, and AW609. It currently conducts training at 16 locations across five continents, employing 200 instructors, using 16 full-flight simulators and nine maintenance training devices. In 2018, it trained more than 10,000 students who cumulatively logged 41,000 simulator hours, delivered five new simulators, and conducted more than 50 new courses.
Cutillo said Leonardo is also investigating the development of an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL), although he acknowledged that pushing an initiative forward on that front might require enlisting resources “from outside the company.”
“We don’t necessarily need to be the first,” said Roberto Garavaglia, senior v-p of competitive analysis and strategy for Leonardo Helicopters, speaking of the company’s potential entry into the eVTOL market. “But I dare say that our efforts will be collaborative. I see four major issues: technology, regulation, infrastructure, and public acceptance. Is our society willing to accept a means of transportation that could potentially cause thousands of deaths per year?”
With regard to current product enhancement, the company is working on the development of active main rotor and electric tailrotor systems. The flap-based active rotor will fly soon on an AW139, while the tailrotor “remains under study,” said Garavaglia. The goal of the active rotor would be to reduce noise and vibration.