Leonardo-Finmeccanica announced on Tuesday 24 May that Pakistan has signed a contract for an undisclosed number of AgustaWestland AW139 intermediate twin engine helicopters. They will be used as search and rescue platforms.
The contract was signed in Islamabad and is part of a Pakistani fleet renewal program spread over several batches including a logistic support and training package. The AW139s are expected in 2017.
According to Leonardo-Finmeccanica, the signing further expands the already successful presence of the AW139 helicopter in-country. A total of 11 AW139s are already in service in Pakistan, with five aircraft operated for government relief and transportation duties.
The first of 16 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters for the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MoJ) successfully performed its maiden flight at the AgustaWestland Helicopter Division’s Yeovil factory in the UK on 21 March 2016. This was announced by Finmeccanica on 23 March 2016.
The successful on-schedule maiden flight marks a major milestone and the start of the flight test programme that will lead to initial aircraft deliveries to the MoJ, for operation by the Royal Norwegian Air Force, in 2017. Aircraft deliveries will continue through to 2020.
“I am very pleased that Finmeccanica has reached this important milestone in the SAR helicopter project and thereby making good progress for the replacement of the aging Sea King helicopter with the new state-of-the-art AW101 by 2020,” says the Minister of Justice and Public Security, Mr. Anders Anundsen.
As we reported earlier, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security signed a contract for 16 AW101 helicopters plus support and training, back in december 2013, to meet the Norwegian All Weather SAR Helicopter (NAWSARH) requirement based on a new generation aircraft. Each aircraft is provided with an advanced SAR equipment package including a multi-panel AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) surveillance radar system, that provides 360° coverage. The large cabin doors and rear ramp provide easy access for personnel, survivors and equipment into the 27 m3 cabin which has stand-up head room throughout.
Finmeccanica’s Helicopter Division will provide initial support and training services, including spares at each of the aircraft operating bases and aircrew training. It will then provide performance based logistic support to deliver approximately 90,000 flying hours across the fleet of 16 helicopters over the initial 15 year period of operation. In support of pilot training, a full flight simulator will be available in Norway in advance of the delivery of the first aircraft.
The Italian Air Force on Thursday 25 February celebrated the entry into operational service of their first AgustaWestland HH-101A Caesar helicopter during an official ceremony at Cervia airbase. Out of a total of 15 HH-101As, four have already been delivered from the Finmeccanica Helicopter Division’s assembly line in Yeovil (UK).
The new chopper will be Italy’s designated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) and special forces platforms. The Caesars will also support regular search and rescue (SAR), medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) and slow mover intercept operations.
Today’s entry into service also marks the true replacement of the HH-3F in Italy, a helicopter that performed SAR and CSAR missions earlier and was retired in 2014.
UPDATED 27 January | Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all are on the verge of replacing their fleets of Mil Mi-8/17 transport helicopters as well as Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters. Although each country seems to be heading down a different path, Bell Helicopter offers potentials for a joint program.
Update: according to Poland’s deputy defense minister on 26 January, a deal for Caracal helicopters now looks ‘very unlikely’.
In Poland, a multirole rotorcraft tender was won last year by Airbus Helicopters’ H225 Caracal, but after a change of government negotiations regarding offset investments are still ongoing. A spokesperson at Airbus Helicopters on Friday stated that ‘things seems to be moving in the right direction again’.
In the neighbouring Czech Republic, the air force flies 16 quite modern transport Mil Mi-171Sh helos, acquired from Russia in 2005 and recently upgraded with new communication, navigation and electrooptical equipment. The Czechs expect their Mi-171s to be used for at least one more decade, after which new helos will take their place as well as the place of current Mi-24 attack choppers. The new helicopters must be able to carry six to eight soldiers and be fitted out with guns plus guided and unguided rockets.
Previous plans of buying 12 machines are now revised in favour of a larger batch of 30-35 helicopters, due to better funding available in short term. Last year Czech MoD issued an request for information (RFI) to manufacturers of medium multirole helicopters; all Western producers responded with offers. Italian AgustaWestland offered the AW139, while Bell Helicopters is offering a tandem of its UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper used by the United States Marines Corps (USMC). Airbus Helicopters will most probably offer the Caracal just like it did in Poland, or the nine ton AS532ALe Cougar.
A preselection of preferred candidates is expected during the first half of 2016, with first deliveries planned a year or two later. Taking into account the strong presence of Bell Helicopters on the Czech civil rotorcraft market and police aviation using five Bell 412 helicopters, the UH-1Y is seen as strong contender. Bell in its offer underscores the possibility of establishing a joint Czech-Polish maintenance and training center if Poland also selects the Viper as a future attack chopper.
As for industrial offset, there’s rather small chance of licence production of selected type in Czech Republic, but some overhaul capabilities may be handed over to Czech industry. AgustaWestland has already signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with LOM Praha for maintenance support, provided AW139 is selected.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has ordered three AW609 tiltrotor aircraft, with an option for three more. The order was placed during the Dubia Air Show and comes ten days after the fatal crash of an AW609 during a test flight in Italy. AgustaWestland has stated the crash occured during a high speed test.
The UAE announcement took many by surprise, as an order for Bell V-22 Osprey tiltrotors seemed much more likely. The UAE will use the AW609s for search and rescue missions, along with AW139 helicopters already in use. Deliveries are to start in four years from now.
The AW609 that crashed was nearing the end of its test program, with 567 hours flown already. The impact on the test program is not yet known. In a statement released earlier this week, AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica said it is fully committed to mitigating any delay the accident, and the subsequent investigation, might have on the program itself.