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.
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 Italian Coast Guard on 6 July received three more AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters while at the same time ordering two more, with options for another four. The choppers are used for a range of missions including maritime patrol, search and rescue (SAR), and emergency medical services.
Delivery of the first batch of Italian Coast Guard’s AW139s started in 2010 and since entering service they have proved extremely successful, performing operations along the Italian coast line and in its maritime economic exclusive zone.
The AW139 has also been selected by and is in service with the Italian State Police, Guardia di Finanza (Customs and Border protection) and the Italian Air Force. The various Italian Government agencies operating the AW139 are able to benefit from shared logistics, training and support systems. This latest contract brings the total number of AW139s chosen by all of these Italian government operators to 37,.
Many maritime, border patrol and security agencies from countries around the world, including Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the UK, USA, Sweden, Spain, Estonia and UAE. Approximately 900 orders have been placed by more than 220 customers from nearly 70 nations to date with more than 730 AW139s already in service.
Atlantic Airways is expanding its fleet. After ordering additional helicopter the “national” airline of the Faroe Island now firmed up an order for a new Airbus A320.
The Airbus order was confirmed on 9 June 2015. The A320 is meant to increase capacity on the line between the Faroes and Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark which controls the island group north of Scotland, halfway between Norway and Iceland.
Atlantic Airways’ A320 will have 168 seats, with the aircraft joining the three Airbus A319s currently operated by the company. Flying to and from the Faroe can be challenging due to the weather conditions. That’s why Atlantic Airways was the first airline in Europe to use the so-called Required Navigation Performance (RNP) to make it fly precisely along predefined routes using on-board navigation systems. The feature is built in into the new aircraft as well.
The new A320 will be delivered at the end of 2016.
Coming in 2016 as well, but rather at the beginning of the year, are two new AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters. Atlantic Airways ordered them in May this year. The new choppers will replace two 20-year old Bell 412s that provide line services between the Faroe islands. The new choppers are able to accommodate 15 passengers, against nine on the Bells. Atlantic Airways’ choppers are frequently flown on behalf of companies in the offshore oil industry.
The AW139s are capable to operate all the way to the outer limits of the 200 nautical mile territorial border of the Faroe islands and stay on station – for example during a rescue operation – for 30 minutes. The Bell 412s could only reach 127 nautical miles from base to be able to stay on the job for half an hour. For emergency purposes the AW139s can carry two stretchers. Operated by a crew of two, there will be then still be enough space for four other people in the cabin. On the Bell there is only room for a single stretcher and three people.
In emergency situations the AW139 can increase its normal cruise of 140 knots (260 kmh) to 163 knots (303 kmh), against the Bells flying 105 knots (195 kmh) at all times. Like the new Airbus A320 the AW139s will be equipped with RNP technology.
The purchase of seven AgustaWestland AW139 maritime rescue choppers for 87 million euro by the Swedish Maritime Authority (Sjöfartsverket) in 2012 was “pre-fixed”, according to investigative journalists of Swedish national television’s Uppdrag Granskning. The program is well known in Sweden of bringing injustice and irregularities in the spotlight. Sjöfartsverket denies any wrongdoing.
According to the program makers the requirements for the new rescue helicopter in the bidding process were detailed in such a way that only the AW139 could meet them, while Sjöfartsverket already signed a preliminary deal with the Italian-Anglo helicopter manufacturer. Uppdrag Granskning’s journalists accuse the Swedish authorities of the pre-fix during three different bidding phases. They also question why the details of the helicopter type were so strict that only the AW139 could meet them, while many countries – including the one’s in northern Scandinavia – use several types of helicopters in a rescue role.
The first pair of seven AW139s were delivered in September 2013. The choppers – part of the 100 personnel strong Helicopter Unit of the Swedish Maritime Authority – operate from Umeå, Ronneby, Norrtälje, Göteborg and Visby. In the latter the AW139 replaces the final Sikorsky S76 in Spring 2015.
The AW139s are on stand-by alert of 15 minutes, 365 days a year, with the each crew being on duty for a full week in a row. Each year Sjöfartsverket’s helicopters fly about 400 to 500 missions, mostly by the flights based in Göteborg and Norrtälje.
Compared to the S76s the new AW139s provide better safety and feature an autopilot / GPS-based autohover. They fly at speeds up to 167 knots, have a better range (485 nautical miles or 900 km) and can carry a bigger load of about 4400 lbs (2000 kg). Standard are two inflatable life rafts with room for twice 17 people and night vision equipment for the 2 pilots, as well as the winch operator and the diver. Normally the AW139s can carry 5 passengers, but up to 9 people is possible.
The choppers are equipped with a terrain warning systems, a collision warning systems, a ship transponder system, and satcom for telephone, e-mail and real-time data traffic. Four movable floodlights, a track light, a search radar and five videocams with recording function are part of the standard configuration.
According to a statement of Sjöfartsverket “no law has been broken” in the purchase of the new helicopter. “There have been substantial flaws in the facts presented by the TV program Uppdrag Granskning. We’ve even had independent experts look at the choice of helicopter, and their conclusions have proven to us that we have acted properly and in accordance to the rules,” writes the Swedish Maritime Authority in a reaction.