Assembly of the first production Leonardo AW609 civil tiltrotor is underway at the Leonardo Helicopters plant in Philadelphia, the company said. This will be followed shortly by a second production aircraft.
By this spring, the AW609 flight-test program had amassed more than 1,400 hours, Leonardo said. Two test aircraft are currently flying—AC1 is in Italy and being used primarily for load-level survey certification flights, while AC3 is in Philadelphia and focused on engine performance certification flights. AC2 was lost in a 2015 fatal crash during high-speed dive testing in Italy, the result of problems related to the control laws of the aircraft’s fly-by-wire flight control system. Meanwhile, AC4 is being assembled in Philadelphia and will fly later this year. It will be equipped with the standard Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion avionics and used for in-flight avionics testing.
In March Leonardo (Booth T71) announced substantially better corporate results for 2018 led by an increase in helicopter deliveries and orders. Leonardo Helicopters managing director Gian Piero Cutillo said 2018 helicopter deliveries numbered 177, substantially higher than the 149 handed over in 2017, while order intake was also much higher. Within the helicopter division, compared with 2017 results, new orders nearly doubled, to $7.03 billion from $3.57 billion; the order backlog increased to $13.77 billion from $11.77 billion; revenues increased to $4.32 billion from $3.89 billion; and profitability improved to 9.4 percent from 8.2 percent. The company noted that its strategy to concentrate on the “intermediate segment of civil/dual-use helicopters” had paid handsome dividends.
“I think we are on the right path. Both civil and military sales have grown,” Cutillo said. “We have made so many changes and we have achieved all of our targets in terms of orders, deliveries, revenues, and profitability.” He attributed the improved results in large part to “making progress on meeting customer requirements.
“We have focused on agility, flexibility in manufacturing, response time, and level of quality in response to customers,” Cutillo said. Regarding the latter, he noted, “It is something we are focusing on in the near future.” Concurrent with improving customer support and training, Leonardo is working at developing a global real-time health and usage monitoring system for all of its helicopters. “Managed data is the future,” said Cutillo. “We are pushing hard on digitalization. There are material benefits for the customer.”
Cutillo pointed to major sales successes over the last year as evidence of the market’s appetite for the company’s products and proof “we are considered reliable in the industry.” These include a $3.4 billion order for 28 NH90s from Qatar; a $2.4 billion order for 84 MH-139s from the U.S. Air Force; a $315 million order for 22 AW169Ms from Italy’s Guardia di Finanza; and orders from energy exploration support customers in Russia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia for AW189s, AW169s, and AW139s.
Cutillo said Leonardo should finish the Aneto 1k engine upgrade program for the AW189 this year and is working hard to complete certification of the AW609 civil tiltrotor program. He said the AW609 could have future military applications. 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. The goal of the active rotor would be to reduce noise and vibration.
Leonardo Helicopters plans to expand its training footprint. It currently conducts training at 16 locations across five continents, employing 200 instructors, 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.