Kate Sarsfield/LONDON

Bell/Agusta Aerospace has clinched the first order for its $6 million AB139 from UK operator Bristow Helicopters, three months after the 12/15-seat aircraft was unveiled.

The sale of two of the medium-twin-turbine helicopters to Redhill, Surrey-based Bristow, for offshore oil support operations, is the first of what the US-Italian joint venture predicts will be more than 900 AB139 sales over 20 years, following production start-up.

"The AB139 is market driven, offering low operating costs and high productivity. We are holding discussions with our potential [and existing] operators to find ways of improving the product," says programme leader Agusta.

Nearly 80% of the technical design, manufacturing and tooling assembly work for the AB139 is complete, "and the programme is on time and budget", says the Cascina Costa-based manufacturer. Three pre-production aircraft will be built for flight testing, due to begin late next year. First deliveries of the AB139 are planned for 2002, along with its BA609 civil tiltrotor stablemate, for which Bell/Agusta has amassed 77 orders.

The joint venture was established last November to develop and market the AB139 and the BA609, with Agusta controlling a majority share in the AB139 programme and Bell taking the lead in the tiltrotor line.

The AB139 is aimed at the corporate/VIP, law enforcement, medical evacuation and offshore oil support operations. It is pitched against the Sikorsky S-92 (now under development) and the Eurocopter EC155.

Source: Flight International