Stefano Bortoli, sales and marketing senior vice-president at Leonardo's helicopter division, can list several rotorcraft opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region for the freshly rebranded company. These range from military applications such as troop transport or anti-submarine warfare to civilian opportunities such as VIP transport.
But first to deal with that tricky renaming - which has seen Leonardo replace Finmeccanica and the individual companies, such as Alenia Aermacchi and AgustaWestland, become divisions of the parent - Bortoli sees no significant impact for the time being on the strength of the AgustaWestland marque.
“There is substantial goodwill in AgustaWestland,” says Bortoli. “For the time being, we have a number of subsidiaries that are keeping their AW name, but progressively this will change. So, in the UK we will have Leonardo UK. The same will happen more or less around the world, while the products will maintain their AW label.”
The development of the Leonardo Helicopters brand is contingent on how much the company invests in it. Bortoli indicates that Leonardo will take a somewhat more relaxed, long-term approach than rival Airbus Helicopters, which changed the designations for most of its helicopters when it switched from Eurocopter in 2014.
“If you change the designations of helicopters, it becomes time-consuming and expensive,” says Bortoli. “If you look at type certificates, they are issued in all the regulatory requirements indicating each product with its name. We're trying to keep it simple even for ourselves.”
Despite a sometimes troubled relationship with the Asia-Pacific region, Bortoli remains confident over its sales prospects.
In India, the company is interested in the country's maritime helicopter requirements. The Sikorsky S-70B is apparently close to being confirmed as the winner of the 16-unit Maritime Reconnaissance Helicopter (MRH) contest. A much larger prize, however, will be New Delhi’s planned Naval Multi-Role Helicopter competition for 120 rotorcraft, with the requirement covering anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare missions, as well as general transport duties.
Bortoli declines to specify which aircraft Leonardo will propose but the ASW-equipped AW101 Merlin would appear a likely candidate.
That said, Leonardo - more specifically Finmeccanica - and the AW101 have had a dismal few years in India. After being selected for the government’s VVIP tender in 2009, in 2013 corruption allegations engulfed the acquisition, ultimately leading to the imprisonment of ex-Finmeccanica chief executive Giuseppe Orsi in early 2016. Only three AW101s from the 12-unit order were delivered; Flight Fleets Analyzer lists these aircraft as being in storage since June 2013.
Bortoli, however, says the company has not been blacklisted in India: “We've never been officially blacklisted, and we've never received any communication.”
He adds that Leonardo has had “more than initial discussions” with an unspecified local firm in regard to potential production work in India. This is a crucial initiative because of New Delhi’s obsession with developing its local defence industry.
Another high profile requirement that Bortoli declines to address is Singapore’s long-anticipated deal to replace its ageing Super Puma fleet.
A recent Reuters report suggested that the AW101 is in a good position to secure a come-from-behind win for 12 helicopters. It hinted that the Airbus Helicopters H225M had originally been selected ahead of the UK-built type, but safety concerns that emerged following a fatal crash of a civil H225 in April caused the Singapore government to reconsider its decision.
Other deals are more clear cut. Bortoli says “we should have news in the last part of 2016” about a Japanese acquisition of 12 additional AW101s. These would be produced by Kawasaki Heavy industries and likely equipped as the MCH-101 mine-sweeping variant.
Another recent success involved the sale of two AW159s for the Philippine navy.
Overall, he expects there are opportunities to sell “several dozen” helicopters equipped for the ASW and border security roles to militaries in both the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
Bortoli also touches on opportunities in the civilian space. For the time being, he expects the main demand drivers to remain the VIP and utility missions. He is hopeful for the emergency medical services (EMS) segment over the long-term, but corroborates widely held industry views that the region is not quite ready for large-scale EMS.
“Unless there is a system in place, it is hard for a large EMS market to take off here in this region,” he says. “You need a community that is interested, or a state that is interested.”
Other challenges involve air space restrictions, and infrastructure challenges such as the lack of heliports at hospitals.