Leonardo Helicopters looks at the European market

Paolo Valpolini

Autumn 2022 will be busy for Leonardo Helicopters, the European market heating up while new products are taking the air.

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The second half of the current year started positively, with the announcement by the Polish Minister of Defence of the selection of the 8.6 tonne AW149 as the medium utility helicopter for the Polish Army. Thirty-two helicopters will be acquired for a total of 1.75 billion Euro, production being carried out by PZL-Świdnik in Poland, the delivery of the first AW149 being planned for late 2023, production being spread over six years.

The same helicopter is being proposed to the United Kingdom for its NMH (New Medium Helicopter) programme, the official requirement being 44 aircraft. It has to be seen whether the Request for Quotation (RfQ) expected in October 2022 might slip to the right, also due to the country political situation and the instalment of a new government. The RfQ will freeze the requirements of the NMH, which will replace Royal Air Force Pumas and Griffons, as well as Army Air Corps Bell 212 and Dauphin. The UK wants to acquire a Military Off-The-Shelf product, with first deliveries expected in 2025. UK prosperity is a key element of the NMH programme, and during this year Farnborough Air Show, Leonardo confirmed the investments made at its Yeovil facility where work started to establish a new AW149 production line.

“The AW149 starts to be a consolidated and mature platform,” Leonardo Helicopter representatives told EDR On-Line during the Farnborough event. In 2021 Leonardo conducted weapon trials on that platform, firing guided and unguided rockets. “Beside the aforementioned programmes, a number of European nations are or will soon phase out their fleet of legacy utility helicopters fleet of Soviet/Russian origin, and have the need to replace them with modern aircraft.”

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In service with many civilian and governmental customers, the 4.8 tonne AW169M has been selected for the Italian Army Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) programme as well as by Austria, which in January 2022 signed a contract for 18 such aircraft within a Government-to-Government programme with the Italian Secretariat General of Defence (SGD), with first deliveries in late 2022. In early September 2022 the SGD took part in the Airpower 2022 air show in Zeltweg, Austria, deploying among other aircraft two Italian Army UH-169Bs, the basic version that was delivered to the service for training purposes ahead of the delivery of the AW169M, one at the static display and one performing a flight demo.

Leonardo Helicopters is looking with interest at a German requirement for an LUH, a market traditionally strongly linked to Airbus, but according to company sources the AW169 would fully answer the needs. The number of machines is in the 50-60 range, 10 of them for the Navy while the rest is for the Army, naval use being mainly training while land forces would use the helicopter in operations, a possible weaponisation being required. Leonardo is ready to provide the helicopter with both landing gear or skids.

With the decision to opt out from the Tiger Mk 3 programme Germany leaves open doors for the future of its attack helicopter fleet. Leonardo looks with interest at such a partner in the development of its AW249, designed on Italian Army requirements but with a look at export, the prototype having performed its maiden unofficial flight in August 2022. Should Germany not look at a US product.

Looking further ahead, Leonardo Helicopters is part of two major programmes, the NATO NGRC (Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability)and the European Union ENGRT (European Next-Generation Rotorcraft Technologies), which might converge at a later date and should allow the European helicopter industry to remain on the edge of the technology development.

Photos courtesy Leonardo and Polish MoD