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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Heli-Expo Show Day: AgustaWestland: Strong Sales, Program Woes

AGUSTAWESTLAND ARRIVES AT Heli-Expo with key civil product lines logging strong sales but military ones beset by problems.

The manufacturer’s AW139 medium twin is proving a popular and versatile aircraft in diverse markets. AgustaWestland is featuring the AW139 in its display, showcasing the aircraft it delivered to its program partern Honeywell. Honeywell provided the Primus Epic avionics suite for the AW139 program.

The aircraft is doing well in offshore markets. Late last year, for instance, Gulf Helicopters of Qatar signed a $130-million deal to purchase 10 of the helicopters for use in its offshore-support operations. (The Gulf Helicopters deal includes setting up an AgustaWestland service center in Qatar.)

Late last year, the Netherlands Police Agency signed a contract for two AW139s. They will be used by the Dutch Police Korps landelijke politiediensten (KLPD) for law enforcement and homeland security missions.

Likewise, sales seem strong for AgustaWestland’s latest version of the A109, the Grand. In January, the manufacturer delivered a Grand to the Italian operator Finmari. (The delivery occurred during the first AgustaWestland Italian Corporate Pilot Conference.)

On the military side, the picture is less rosy. AgustaWestland’s showcase victory in the contest to provide the next U.S. presidential transport helicopter back in 2005 has led to a quagmire of development problems. In December, the U.S. Navy told lead contractor Lockheed Martin Systems Integration to stop work for 90 days on the second phase of development of that transport, based on the EH101 (now AW101). The Pentagon has asked Sikorsky Aircraft, the 50-year incumbent unseated with that victory, to consider means of sustaining the current presidential fleet of VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns because of delays in the VH-71 program.

Problems with that program knocked the AW101 out of contention in the bidding to provide the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation combat search and rescue helicopter.

The joint Lockheed-AgustaWestland-Bell Helicopter bid has been revived through successful protests of the Air Force’s selection process. That service is weighing new bids from that team, Sikorsky, and Boeing.

AgustaWestland has logged successes. Late last year, for instance, it completed flight testing of the new-generation British Experimental Rotor Program (BERP) 4 main-rotor blades on the AW101. Those blades are to enter service early this year on the U.K. Royal Air Force fleet of AW101 Merlins. They are available as an option on new helicopters and for retrofit.

During the tests, the AW101 flew up to 198 kt and 13,000 ft. The BERP 4 blades have enabled an AW101 to fly at a gross weight of 36,300 lbs, 2,000 lb more than the aircraft’s current maximum takeoff weight.

The BERP 4 blades have an improved planform, new airfoil sections, and an advanced structure. These all help reduce vibration, add 10 kt to the AW101’s cruise speed, and 1,430 lb to its payload capacity.

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