Norway’s selection of the AgustaWestland AW101 for its NAWSARH search and rescue requirement is a major shot in the arm for the manufacturer’s Yeovil, UK plant.

Announced on 19 December, the order is for 16 aircraft plus six options to replace the aged Westland Sea Kings operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

However, the orderbook for Yeovil-built AW101s – excluding those previously earmarked for India – has dwindled to just six aircraft, according to Flightglobal’s Ascend Online Fleets database.

And although the deal with Norway provides a level of long-term stability for the assembly line, deliveries of Oslo’s aircraft will not commence until 2017, creating the very real possibility of a production gap.

However, Ray Edwards, managing director of AgustaWestland UK, says that winning the Norway contest provides “critical mass”, and gives the manufacturer confidence to boost the efficiency of the three-engined type, enhancing its short-term sales prospects.

“With this order comes the confidence to invest in the aircraft,” he says. Initiatives will include pursuit of civil certification for the 15.6t type, as AgustaWestland looks for new customers in the offshore oil and gas transportation segment, where it believes the AW101 can offer an ideal platform for longer-range missions.

“It’s an aircraft that can carry a lot of people over a long distance. If you can get the price right and the economics right for operation then you have got an aircraft that comes back into consideration for oil and gas operations,” he says.

Elements of cost reduction and efficiency improvements will manifest themselves as the company works through the configuration of the Norwegian aircraft, says Edwards.

Although Edwards acknowledges that “we don’t have a big backlog” for the AW101, sustainment and upgrade activities for the UK armed forces account for a large part of Yeovil’s work. The enhancement of the Royal Navy’s AW101 Merlin fleet to the HM2 standard is the facility’s biggest contract at present, says Edwards.

“Let’s be frank – it is always, always better to have more work than less. But although we are very excited by final assembly, it’s a very small percentage of the total cost on an aircraft,” he adds.

Edwards puts that figure at around 6%, noting that other engineering activities at Yeovil, such as work on drivetrains and rotor systems, represents a sizeable proportion of the work carried out at the site.

Additionally, the site will soon begin assembly of the manufacturer’s 8t AW189, as the site works to broaden its presence in the civil sector.