First UK SAR AW189s to be delivered next year

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AgustaWestland will deliver the first of 11 search and rescue-configured AW189s in the first half of 2014 to Bristow Helicopters to operate under the UK's newly awarded Long SAR contract.

The rotorcraft will all be designed and produced at the airframer's Yeovil, UK site as it adds a SAR helicopter manufacturing capability to its existing UK and international military programmes.

Including training and sustainment, the deal is worth £235 million ($355 million) to AgustaWestland, but the real value for the business is in securing its UK industrial footprint.

Graham Cole, chairman of AgustaWestland in the UK, believes it can secure sales of around 200 SAR helicopters to the global market over the lifetime of the programme, a figure he describes as a "conservative estimate".

Cole says discussions on future sales are already under way. "There are a number of very interested parties and this decision by the UK makes them even more interested," he says. "We hope that between now and when we start to deliver the helicopters we will have moved that forward quite considerably."

Certification of the baseline AW189 is due in the second half of 2013, with approval for the SAR variant following in early 2014.

Although Cole acknowledges that its arguments about preserving the UK's manufacturing capability will have held some sway with operators, he believes they are more driven by price. "They would have argued a way to choose another aircraft if they felt it was better," he says.

"The UK dimension was a factor, but these are definitely commercial people and were looking at the bottom line."

AgustaWestland has based one AW189 test aircraft at Yeovil, a first for the site. So far the General Electric CT7-powered super-medium twin has secured 70 commitments from operators.