-T / T / +T | Comment(s)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

AgustaWestland: Delivering Family to the World

In the second of a two-part feature from AgustaWestland’s home in northern Italy, the company’s attitude toward world markets is examined, along with the importance of introducing technology to improve responsiveness and availability to the customer.

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief

AgustaWestland’s booth at Heli-Expo 2014. Photo by Frank Lombardi
AgustaWestland CEO Daniele Romiti wants to “keep the speed of the company at the highest value possible but like when you drive a car, if you start exceeding its performance, then there must be a safety device to ensure you do not lose control. We have to ensure that we have the ability to keep the company safe.” Romiti made the remarks while explaining the need to balance innovation and the need to cooperate with other industries on the world stage, while providing increased customer service and support. “We have a compliance officer to monitor ongoing our relationships. We want to be a responsible company,” he adds.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Romiti was part of a team that looked into the future to plan where the company was heading. They foresaw competition that was beginning to rise from countries that were looking to increase their own industrial capability to become players in the aerospace sector. Their ambition was not just to complete and assemble their own orders, but to grasp a slice of the technology “cake” and create their own competencies that could be sold into the international market.

“We put all our effort into keeping control of the jewels of the family – dynamic components, avionics, integration – and this was the core of the company,” reveals Romiti. “Every time someone wants some of this technology then our aim is to keep a step ahead in what we have. For example, the new generation of gearboxes is not similar to the old ones, so I may accept to offer the old technology outside the company as part of a larger agreement.” In this way, he explains, AgustaWestland can incorporate the lessons learned from correcting mistakes made in previous systems, or simply add in a new generation of design or aspect of manufacture that allows the company to retain and protect its position as a knowledge owner for future developments.

“You can’t always apply the 50 minute ‘run dry’ capability [as in the AW189] across all the existing gearboxes, but knowing the ingredients to shape the architecture is the key factor for future transmission development. You may take pictures of it but you still can’t replicate how it works,” he said.

Roberto Garavaglia, senior vice president of strategy and business development, is quite certain of the company’s corporate technology plan. “There are a number of technologies being explored with the idea of fielding them over time. If it is an airframe technology it is something we would mature; if it is a technology component or a piece of a sub-system we can make agreements with others.”

Emphasizing Romiti’s earlier point, Garavaglia notes: “We see a growing number of countries who have an appetite to create their own technologies. Up to 20 years ago they simply bought something sophisticated – now they buy and have a share [in the technology]. The value chain has been split – we all [OEMs] now have different approaches. The U.S. is more restricted because of their activities in military markets, although the civilian sector is marginal in the composition of their revenues. In Europe we cannot sustain the size we are through military sales so we need growth in the civil market, together with support and training. But even in support you will compete with other players – the ‘battlefield’ changes in terms of actors [in each sector].”

The growth for AgustaWestland is clearly going to come from the continued enlargement of the civil market, particularly with the ‘family’ approach to operators gathering momentum. He acknowledges the strengthening of the energy sector and is also aware of the numbers of aircraft in the replacement market: “We are second [in terms of civilian aircraft sold] and can grow further.”

Although all of the OEMs have experienced a decline in potential military sales Garavaglia says the business is ‘solid’ and that military operators have moved from modularity of inventory to capability. While there may be fewer helicopters in number, he considers that there is a longer value chain of services associated with increased capability. “We can also penetrate into training which adds to that value chain.”

In terms of both the military and civil markets, Garvavalia states that it is no longer about just delivering airframes. “We will grow less from big contracts, but more though our wider ability to serve our customers,” he concludes.

In terms of international cooperation, one of the most significant is the joint-venture agreement with Russian Helicopters over Heli-Vert, the organization that will assemble the AW139 helicopter for the Russian and CIS markets. “Russian Helicopters comes from a different culture. They are very good builders of helicopters but are culturally different to the attitude of the west and the U.S. approach,” said Garavaglia. “Russia has traditionally been more driven by military requirements and folding back into civil as needed. They can have very long prototype lives. We have much respect for their different approach and helicopter manufacture is part of their culture.”

At the end of January, HeliVert gained a Certificate of Approval from the Aviation Register of the Interstate Aviation Committee (AR IAC) allowing it to begin production of the AW139 as a commercial helicopter. The certificate is valid for two years.

Russian Helicopters CEO Alexander Mikheev stated that the HeliVert project “…has enabled us to create one of the most modern and high-tech production facilities in Russia,” referring to the Tomilino plant near Moscow.

The success of the AW139 and the establishment of HeliVert has allowed AgustaWestland access into a market that ripe for this medium twin helicopter. Romiti said that the expansion of the customer base into this new region with its own operating challenges would ultimately benefit all AW139 operators.

The first Tomilino-produced AW139 flew in December 2012, one of the first five built after the initial AR IAC audit in May of that year. The second audit, conducted in November 2013, resulted in the approval for commercial production.

A joint venture in China with the Chinese Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC II) has also been established in the form of Jiangxi Change Agusta Helicopter (CAH). This aims to license the production, sale and support of the AW109 Power for the Chinese commercial market. However, the slowly evolving legislation to open up airspace and allow the international helicopter community to “up gears” on this potentially huge market has been frustrating. “We have a joint venture but we are in a wait and see situation,” Romiti observes.

Think Customer – and Training

AW139 training maintenance simulator. Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland
Apart from designing new aircraft, AgustaWestland is grasping technology in a variety of different ways; from training though logistics support and on to its direct interaction with its customers.

At the Training Academy Aessandro Marchetti, Rotorsim customer training manager Michele Sorice explained that the vision is to establish the world’s premier training facility for AgustaWestland aircraft. The training and simulator facility at Sesto Calende can trace a history of pilot training back to the mid 1960s and even further back to the beginnings of SIAI (Societa’ Italiana Aeroplani ed Idrovolanti – the original seaplane company). However now Rotorsim, a co-development company between AgustaWestland and CAE, is developing Level D full flight simulator (FFS) for the new range of AgustaWestland helicopters.

With a CAE Series 3000 AW189 simulator already in place, as well as the AW139 simulator, during Heli-Expo AgustaWestland announced that they would be joined by a similar Series 3000 FFS AW169 simulator that would be available by mid-2015. In addition, a second AW189 simulator would be purchased and located in Aberdeen to serve the UK’s Search and Rescue helicopter crews.

But the depth of pilot and maintenance training at Sesto Calende is impressive. Operators of the AW189 can train their employees on a virtual maintenance trainer, ground maintenance trainer, vitual interactive procedural trainer, flight training device and of course the full motion FFS. The detail of the virtual maintenance trainer is particularly proactive, allowing the trainee to open maintenance bays, plug and unplug items that they would do on the real aircraft, but all in a virtual environment.

Alongside the physical training aircraft, whether it is an AW189 or AW109, instructors or students can use the electronic board that is the Multimedia Interactive Maintenance Environment for Training (MIMET). This board provides students with immediate access to coursewear, technical publications and other information as they stand beside the aircraft.

AgustaWestland has also been designing training scenarios to run on its 3000 Series simulators. Through four different Visual Databases (VDBs) – urban and mountain (summer and winter), Caribbean area and desert area – there will be four types of mission for various user profiles. These include: HEMS mission; police chase; battlefield, search and rescue; and oil rig operations.

The logistics and distribution center at Lonate Pozzolo is one of three around the world – the other two being in Yeovil, UK and in Philadelphia, Pa. The centers are in continuous operation with three shifts working 24/7. Alessandro Baricci, vice president of customer support and services said that the real impact in the way AgustaWestland addressed logistics came with the success of the AW139. “That changed our perspective on how to serve the market. The growth of the product has been so impressive over the last six years,” he said.

At the time of Rotor & Wing’s visit, the average closing time on a customer service requirement was 24.78 hours. He said the ambition was to ship to customers within 24 hours, but delivery times still depended on the type of product being shipped and the country the receiver was based in. Baricci said that they were achieving a 92.5 percent delivery of goods within 72 hours. However, that could slow significantly if the part was a fire extinguisher or bottle of air for a life raft to cite a couple of examples.

The center breaks its tracking down to items sent within 24 hours, up to 72 hours and then over 72 hours. “Some customers are served within a few hours, others take longer.”

Leonardo – What’s in a Name?

Screens at AgustaWestland’s facility in Italy.
Photo by Andrew Drwiega
Another technology upgrade can be seen in the newly launched Leonardo customer portal, revealed at this year’s Heli-Expo, which is the next step forward from the MyFleet web application. Designed with the participation of customers, it is intended to allow operators to create online profiles of all users from the same organization.

It has several access areas with several features that include: a flow of documents published by AgustaWestland; a Myprofile area for customers to manage and update their details; a Myfleet option where customers list their helicopters and can access relevant information on them from AgustaWestland’s database; and Mycommunications, which lets customers create service requests directly into the company’s SAP Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, then monitor the progress of the request through a tracking number including technical queries, support requests, warranty claims and other reports and job requests.

John Ponsonby, senior vice president, customer training and support said that the Leonardo portal offered a wider range of web-based services which should deliver faster response times and quicker solutions. Further enhancements including e-commerce options are expected during the coming year.

Live chat by BoldChat