With the levelling off in sales that is seen once the 500 unit mark is reached, Agusta Westland can bring up its AW139 model with some confidence, drawing attention to the rapid success of its helicopter, the best seller in its category. This is a commercial and technological advance that could be wrong-footed by the arrival of new competitors.
In a little less than ten years, Agusta Westland has made the AW139 an aircraft that is hugely popular with operators. In an initiative that is reflected in the versatility of this medium tonnage twin turbine, the joint business borne out of the union between the American Bell Helicopter Textron and the Italian Agusta draws on the various partners involved in the development of its machine, initially born as the AB-139. Six specialists came together to work on the American-Italian project. Kawasaki and GKN Westland have devoted themselves to, respectively, the secondary transmissions and the main one whilst Honeywell is working on the avionics, Pratt &Whitney on the engine, Liebherrau on the retractable undercarriage and the air conditioning, and last but not least PZL Swidnik on the frame.
A SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH
The pre-series aircraft registered as I-ACOI was launched without a prototype and took to the skies for the first time on 3rd February 2001. This was followed by two other machines that carried out their official trial flights, whilst in November the same year the first aircraft series the I-ANEW saw the light of day, with Italian certification granted two years later. Bell Textron, who are only involved in 25% of the programme, are busy elsewhere with the BA609 convertible tilt rotor, and the Italian manufacturer is consolidating its position, having merged in 2005 with GKN Westland to form Agusta Westland, naming its first helicopter the AW139.
POPULAR WITH OPERATORS
The British helicopter firm Bristow Helicopters that specialises in offshore missions was the launch client, with two aircraft ordered in 2000. Bristow were attracted by the presentation of this multi-role aircraft that could be adapted for missions linked to air ambulance use, police use, fire-fighting use and passenger transport. Meanwhile, the no less well-known Canadian company CHC has become the first AW139 operator in this part of the world. This is just as much of a testament to the machine’s quality, given that the company is used to working helicopters in demanding operational and environmental conditions. These hours accumulated flying to oil and gas facilities across the globe are a tribute to the studies carried out by Agusta Westland with a view to meeting the needs of offshore operators who represent over a third of the aircraft in service. As well as meeting its obligation to meeting the new FAR/JAR 29 norms, the specifications integrate the need to transport a 2 500kg payload or 15 passengers in the high density version to 290km/h – all this with a range that can reach the symbolic threshold of 500 nautical miles. The fact that, for example, the de-icing is certificated for all its configurations is evidence of the Italian manufacturer’s involvement with its clients.
In addition to its heliport services, CHC Helicopter is one of the top world leaders in helicopter maintenance via its subsidiary Heli-One, who provide a repair and overhaul service for Agusta Westland aircraft in over thirty countries and since 2009 have been providing a maintenance services network. The Italian manufacturer is keen to set up a support policy for the commercial development of the AW139 and selects its partners with a view to meeting the maintenance needs of its aircraft. Russia has reached a critical mass with over twenty models in service, and one of its aeronautical sector bodies Aérosouz has been named a maintenance centre. Agusta Westland has now made its mark in the Russian market as well as making the most of the most extreme weather conditions to perfect its model. An AW139 demonstration model will do a three week turn in various regions of Siberia, thereby showcasing its capacity to respond to the most testing operational requirements.
The AW139 is a genuine work platform that ranges from passenger shuttle transport to search and rescue operations. The arrival of the EC175 represents a real tactical and commercial challenge for Agusta Westland. Alongside its civilian career, the military market is opening up for the AW139, whilst the range’s superior models such as the AW169 are arriving soon. On this matter, it is interesting to note the delivery of the first models of the HH-139A version to the Italian air force twenty years after the delivery of the last Italian helicopter to its own armed forces.