You might call Heli-Expo 2005 a triumph for Bell/Agusta Aerospace and particularly for the AB139. In the period covering European certification in 2003, FAA IFR authorization in December and last month’s show, eight AB139s have been handed over to customers, for use in roles ranging from VIP to air ambulance and a wide range of environments. Twenty-six more were ordered in Anaheim last month.
Hickok & Associates of Orange Beach, Ala., has developed a network of 19 GPS approaches to hospitals in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for aeromedical operator CareFlite of Grand Prairie, Texas. Ray Dauphinais, vice president of operations for CareFlite, told AIN that Steve Hickok, president of Hickok & Associates, has submitted the approaches to the FAA and is hoping for approval before next winter.
The industry gears up for its annual group hug, this year back in Las Vegas (March 15 to 17) against a backdrop of decent sales figures for new civil helicopters over the past year and a forecast of modest growth over the next eight. According to Bill Dane, senior analyst at Forecast International, between 2003 and 2012 projected deliveries are 9,500 helicopters valued at $19 billion.
Following the first Bell/Agusta AB139 delivery to Helilario, production is now ramping up to meet deliveries to international customers later this year. The company said it already has a “sizable” order book for the helicopter, corresponding to two years of production. Preparation of AB139 customer-support and training activities is on target to meet introduction-into-service dates.
Nearly six years after its launch at the 1999 Paris Air Show, Bell/Agusta’s AB139 medium twin-turbine helicopter has gained FAA IFR certification. The helicopter, which achieved Italian IFR certification in 2003, is equipped with a four-screen Honeywell Primus Epic EFIS. Three aircraft have been delivered to date. The order book currently stands at more than 80 aircraft slated for delivery to more than 40 customers, according to Bell/Agusta.
On December 21, Turkish-based Tusas Aerospace Industries shipped its first AW139 fuselage to AgustaWestland. Under a 2004 agreement, 250 fuselages for the medium twin will be manufactured in Ankara between last year and 2017. The company will deliver 24 this year.
While Eurocopter remains the leader in unit sales of civil helicopters, its competitors are honing their products. The company’s management team is well aware of the pressure, as one official recently expressed concern about new competing products from Western manufacturers. He stated that they will soon be as capable as, and less expensive than, Eurocopter’s.
AgustaWestland is acquiring Bell Helicopter’s 25-percent stake in the AB139 twin-turbine helicopter program. “Consolidating the ownership of the AB139 will provide a single face to the customer, leading to increased sales and greater customer satisfaction related to follow-on support services,” said AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppi Orsi.
Giuseppe Airaudi, 52, and his passenger died in the crash of an Agusta Bell AB412 on November 27 in the Italian Alps. Airaudi cofounded Turin-based Airgreen with his brother Mauro in the early 1980s. Airgreen now operates 15 helicopters for rescue, aerial work and transport to mountain shelters.
The second prototype of the Bell/Agusta BA609 tiltrotor has been flying in airplane mode since November 9 (see AIN, December 2006, page 3). It operates from Cameri, an Italian Air Force airfield near Milan.