The AgustaWestland helicopter joint venture is at last fully operational, having met the final procedural and legal obligations and obtained go-ahead from European anti-trust authorities. The Anglo-Italian venture is also thought to be close to deepening its relationship with Bell Helicopter Textron, possibly to involve an equity link.

Latest forecasts suggest the Anglo-Italian venture had proforma sales of around $2.3 billion last year - $1.4 billion from Westland and $900 million from Agusta. The UK arm's return on sales is expected to be 9.2%, against the Italian arm's 13.2%, with total sales up nearly 10% on 1999's $2.1 billion, when the venture had an $8 billion backlog, a 10,000-strong workforce and delivered 71 helicopters.

AgustaWestland is incorporated in Amsterdam, with Italian Amedeo Caporaletti as chief executive and Westland's Kevin Smith president and Richard Case chief operating officer. Overall, including civil and military markets, the venture ranks second by value to Boeing and ahead of Eurocopter.

AgustaWestland has strong transatlantic links, Westland with Boeing and Agusta with Bell via the BA-609 tiltrotor and AB-139 medium helicopter. Sources say talks between AgustaWestland and Bell could soon lead to a formal relationship. They may also widen product-based co-operation to new areas.

Source: Flight International