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Sunday, January 1, 2006

Rotorcraft Report: Partners Split On AB139; AgustaWestland Keeps 609 Stake

Delays in fielding the BA609 civil tilt-rotor was one reason AgustaWestland ended its partnership with Bell Helicopter on the AB139 medium-twin.

"When we started, we were thinking to go into the market with the 609 and 139 together" and the joint Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. selling both made sense, AgustaWestland CEO Guiseppe Orsi said. With the BA609's service entry delayed until 2010, "there was no sense to have a joint company selling a product completely manufactured in Italy."

Unhappiness with AB139 marketing was another reason AgustaWestland bought out Bell's 25-percent stake. (Terms weren't revealed, but AgustaWestland's keeping its 25-percent share of the 609 for now.) Of the change, unveiled Nov. 21, Orsi said, "We wanted to have a free hand to pursue our strategy" on the AB139. The company is adding space at Agusta Aerospace Corp. in Philadelphia for U.S. assembly of the twin, soon to be renamed the A139, starting in 2007.

The partners denied their competing bids in the U.S. Army's Light Utility Helicopter competition provoked the split. Bell built the 210 for that race, but had to field the 412 when IFR certification was required; AgustaWestland is offering the AB139. Still, AgustaWestland officials at a Rome conference expressed anger that Bell hadn't teamed with them.

The AB139's sales success hasn't yet included U.S. government orders. Perhaps Orsi and company will address this shortcoming now that their hands are free.

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