Bell, AgustaWestland disagree on future of BA609 partnership

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Airframers AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter have engaged in a public spat over the future management of their BellAgusta Aerospace joint venture, which produces the BA609 civil tiltrotor.

Giuseppe Orsi, AgustaWestland's chief executive, ignited the row on the eve of the HAI Heli-Expo convention.

Orsi said that Bell's executives have "agreed" to change the management of the BA609 programme, although negotiations are ongoing.

AgustaWestland has been in discussions with Bell for nearly two years to take over leadership of the BA609, which has been delayed until at least 2016.

ba 609 tiltrotor, bell helicopter
 © Bell Helicopter

But Bell executives disagreed with Orsi. "We're continuing to work to find the best way to get the aircraft to certification," chief executive John Garrison said. "It will take a partnership to get there." Garrison added that there has been no change to Bell's position in regard to the discussions with AgustaWestland.

When asked to respond, AgustaWestland clarified that Bell will remain in the partnership as a junior partner, so Garrison's comments were actually in line with Orsi's position.

But Bell continued to disagree with AgustaWestland's stance, saying that it remains "premature" to say that Bell has agreed to accept a junior role in the partnership.

The BA609 is a product of Bell's experimental XV-15 tiltrotor, and leverages the technology developed for the US military's V-22 Osprey. Despite its shared technology, flight tests for the BA609 have been plagued by delays.

The twin-engined tiltrotor, meanwhile, continues to fly at a "low pace" in the delayed certification process, Orsi says. Originally expected to receive regulatory approval in 2011, the BA609 is now scheduled to be certificated in 2015 or 2016, AgustaWestland says.

The timing of certification is based on the progress of de-icing testing, which will not begin until the third test aircraft starts flying in 2013, AgustaWestland says.

That aircraft is now on the assembly line. Meanwhile, the second prototype of the BA609 is flying in Italy, and AgustaWestland has received the fuselage of the fourth prototype.

The first prototype of the nine-passenger business aircraft completed its main flight eight years ago.