The first flight of the Bell/ Agusta BA609 has been delayed to August 2001 as the joint venture moves production of the civil tiltrotor's fuselage assembly from the USA to Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) of Japan.


Bell/Agusta had been aiming to fly the first of four planned BA609 prototypes by the end of this year. The company says it is planning for an 18-month long flight test and certification programme, pushing back the first delivery from mid-2002 to the following year.


The company attributes part of the delay to the introduction of new technology and the need to certificate the six- to nine-seat tiltrotor to a new Federal Aviation Regulation part standard. Replacing Nashville-based Aerostructures as the BA609 fuselage supplier has also had an impact on the programme schedule.


The move is disruptive, but in the long run it is a positive stabilising influence for the programme, says Bell/Agusta. A major factor in the switch appears to be that FHI, unlike Aerostructures, will be a risk-sharing subcontractor investing its own funds in the BA609's cockpit, cabin, aft fuselage and systems installation.


Bell/Agusta will build the initial four fuselage assemblies, but says it had always intended to outsource the work, given heavy production commitments producing the V-22 military tiltrotor and remanufacturing H-I helicopters at Amarillo and Fort Worth plants. FHI will supply the production tiltrotor airframe. Bell/Agusta plans initial final assembly of the BA609 in the USA and then Italy, but for now rules out manufacturing the entire tiltrotor in Japan.


Subject to a major Japanese Government order, however, the company says it would look to Fuji to have an expanded role. Delays to the programme have not yet affected the 80 orders the joint venture claims to have for the BA609. It has still to settle on a price for the second batch of production tiltrotors. The next available aircraft would be in 2006, too far out for prudent pricing it says.

Source: Flight International