As AgustaWestland throws the wraps off the VVIP mock-up of an AW101 for the first time at a commercial exhibition, and Renzo Lunardi, senior vice president of the commercial business unit explains how he sees the market for the aircraft.

A dedicated conference room on board, the option of flat-bed seating, hi-tech entertainment systems and secure communications. These are just some of the tantalising features that AgustaWestland is planning to integrate into an ultra-luxurious variant of the AW101.

The cabin mock-up being shown at EBACE offers a glimpse into how the company is hoping to expand its foothold in the VIP market through its largest helicopter, which until now has been directed toward the military and law-enforcement sectors.

Buoyed by the selection of the aircraft as the basis for the next US Presidential helicopter fleet, AgustaWestland is targeting heads of state, major corporations and key business aircraft markets such as the Middle East with this latest addition to its product line.

“We believe there is a unique opportunity for the AW101 because it offers something different to the competition,” says Renzo Lunardi, senior vice president, commercial business unit. “In terms of cabin space, the aircraft has a significant advantage because for most missions we can carry up to 30 people and that translates into a lot of space for VIP customers. The cabin height is 1.83m, which means you can walk around in a way that just isn’t possible in other helicopters.”

Lunardi points to the additional safety of a three-engined aircraft and improvements such as the more powerful General Electric CT7-8E engines and development of BERP IV main rotor blades which promise to lift payload and performance figures to new levels.

“We have a lot of discussions going on with potential VIP customers,” he says. “I would hope that we will be able to announce firm orders in 2009. We are making an investment by taking this cabin mock-up not just to EBACE but also to other major shows so that people can see for themselves what is possible with the 101.” Lunardi adds that conversion to VIP configuration would likely take 24 to 36 months.

The VIP version of the AW101 will take AgustaWestland’s line-up of VIP products to five – alongside the AW119, the AW109, the Grand and AW139. “We will be able to integrate all the way from single-engine VIP operations right through to the AW101. Our single-engine aircraft the AW119 is not an entry-level aircraft; it is essentially an AW109 with one engine, so we see that as an advantage also.”

So does that complete the VIP stable for the company? “There is still quite a gap between the AW139 and the AW101 in terms of size,” says Lunardi. “We will continue to look at that segment.”

As well as the AW101 mock-up AgustaWestland also has both a Grand and an AW139 on show in VIP configuration and an AW139 mock-up displaying the fruits of a new partnership with Italian fashion house Versace. The famous name is providing high-end interiors across the AgustaWestland VIP range.

“Versace is synonymous with Italian style and that is a very good fit with the aircraft that we have on the market,” explains Lunardi. “We wanted to show how the interior of the future could look and we have had a very enthusiastic response from customers. We have already delivered a number of aircraft featuring the Versace interiors.”

AgustaWestland is also studying the luxury car market to see how it delivers what customers want. In terms of seating comfort this includes developments such as heated seats. “It’s not as easy in the aerospace market to make these changes because everything needs to be certificated, but there are things we can learn from how the luxury auto market operates.

“We are focusing on three factors with the AW101 VVIP – work, relaxation and rest. Our customers need to be able to work with everything they need at their fingertips. When they want to relax they will have the very best entertainment and facilities on hand and when they need to rest we have developed an active vibration system that minimises cabin noise and are investing in the most comfortable seating.”

The first quarter of 2008 has been a strong one for AgustaWestland’s Commercial business, with performance up on the same period last year despite the economic turbulence being felt by the world’s major economies.

“We are growing the Commercial business,” says Lunardi. “We see strong demand from new economies such as Brazil, Mexico, India and Russia as well as from the Middle East which remains very important. We are also doing very well in France, which I think is a tribute to the strength of our products.

“This week is an ideal opportunity for us. I see EBACE as an exhibition which is growing in importance, and for the helicopter market it is a European answer to HAI’s Heli-Expo. It is a good meeting place and I’m looking forward to the event.”

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Source: Flight Daily News