By Paolo Valpolini
The Italian Financial and Custom Police (Guardia di Finanza) received the 1000th AW139 produced by Leonardo, and originally developed by what was at the end of the previous century AgustaWestland. Talking in front of Italian governmental and regional authorities, military and police forces high ranking officers, customers, partner companies representatives and media, Gian Piero Cutillo, Managing Director of Leonardo Elicotteri, said that “that of the AW139 development was a courageous choice, aiming at creating a product that could excel in all aspects, and we can say today that part of that statement is true.” A dual-use helicopter, born at 6.4 tonnes and now grown up to 7 tonnes, the AW139 has been successful in many civilian domains, however one third of the market is made of governmental sales, 20% of the sales coming from the military market and 12% from the paramilitary. The AW139 in its military version is in service with the Irish Air Corps (6 helicopters), Qatar (21), UAE (11), the Italian Air Force (15), the US Air Force awaiting soon the delivery of the first MH139, the incremental contract foreseeing the acquisition of up to 84 such helicopters mostly devoted to nuclear ballistic missiles sites protection; testing should start in late 2019 while first deliveries should follow in 2020. The latter deal sees Boeing as prime contractor, helicopters being produced at Leonardo Helicopters Philadelphia facility, where around one third of the 1,000 helicopters manufactured until now have been assembled.
“Safety is a key parameter for us,” Cutillo added, “the AW139 having defined new standards that he then overcame, this helicopter having also been the first member of a new family, which includes the bigger AW189 and the smaller AW169.”
Alessandro Profumo, Leonardo CEO, underlined how the AW139 exceeded expectations: “the initial objective was 400 helicopters,” he remembered adding that it is probably the helicopter with the greater number of sales in such a short period of time, 15 years considering that the first delivery took place in early 2004. “We have now 280 operators in 70 countries over five continents,” he added, “and we have 25% market share of twin-engine helicopters, the AW139 having flown 2.5 million hours, over 1.5 million having been flown in the last five years.”
“The leader AW139 has overcome 15,000 flight hours carrying out 41,000 cycles,” Roberto Garavaglia, Leonardo Helicopters VP for Strategy and Innovation said during a technical briefing. Firm orders will bring the total over 1,100 aircraft, however the history is far from be finished, “and we will do our best to make it a continuous success in order to reach number 2,000,” he added. He also underlined how much the US Air Force endorsement will be a precious business card for the AW139, more military sales being expected, also through Foreign Military Sales channels. Stressing the family concept, Garavaglia underlined the advantages of the family concept, saying that the three helicopters above mentioned share 20% of common parts, 30% of common maintenance tools and ground support equipment, while training time is reduced by 40% when personnel has to shift to another member of the family. Currently the AW139 is produced at a pace of around 70 per year in the Italian and US assembly lines, its production involving also Leonardo facilities in southern Italy and in Poland.
After the symbolic delivery of the keys of the new AW139 to the Guardia di Finanza Commanding General, Lt.Gen. Giuseppe Zafarana, a demonstration of the capabilities of the AW139 and of the AW609 tiltrotor took place on the Vergiate airport.
According to Leonardo CEO the delivery of the 1000th AW139 goes beyond an industrial success: “What we celebrate today is much more than the success of a product or of a company, it is the global affirmation of an asset of our entire country.”
Photos by Leonardo and Paolo Valpolini