Giuseppe Orsi, chief executive of AgustaWestland, explains how the Finmecannica-owned helicopter manufacturer has reacted to the downturn, its production plans following the acquisition of Poland's PZL Swidnik, and its strategies in the US and emerging markets

How is AgustaWestland dealing with the world economic downturn? What steps have you taken to achieve your targets?

Since the very beginning of the critical world economic situation, we acted to adjust our strategy. Our backlog has proven quite solid, with approximately three years of production. We have leveraged our comprehensive and diversified product range to even further increase our competitiveness, and we have also supported customers in getting financing and accessing customised services in the commercial market.

However, we have also constantly assessed how the scenario was and is evolving further, and that's why we have been performing periodical revisions... We have managed to be a successful company even across this period of crisis, the worst part of which we have now probably left behind us.

AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi
 © AgustaWestland

Nevertheless, we have also seen that we cannot relax because the competition is extremely aggressive and the market is changing fast. This is the reason why, despite the crisis, we have never stopped and continue to invest in what we consider the building blocks of competitiveness: market penetration and worldwide presence, product development and innovation, operational excellence and flexibility, service excellence and our people.

How has production been reshaped since the acquisition of PZL Swidnik, and what future projects are planned?

Each AgustaWestland site worldwide is playing a key and specific role in the framework of our global strategy. With reference to PZL Swidnik, the acquisition is enabling AgustaWestland to strengthen its leadership, expand its operations in Europe and increase its competitiveness, all thanks to PZL's many years of experience in the field of helicopter aerostructures - especially fuselages, which the company has been producing for five AgustaWestland helicopter models. We have also added its SW-4 and W-3 models to our portfolio, further expanding our already competitive range of offerings to the world market.

Poland is thus becoming the third European leg of AgustaWestland, alongside the UK and Italy. Moving or setting up new assembly lines is enabling us to meet the growing demand for our products and exploit new business opportunities in important markets. Examples of global steps aimed at getting those advantages include the existing or future assembly lines in China for the CA109, in Libya through LIATEC, in Russia for the AW139, and in India for the AW119, through the joint venture established with Tata Sons.

AgustaWestland boasts a 90% share of the police helicopter fleet in China, where the AW109 Power has found incredible success. In Libya, AgustaWestland has sold around 20 aircraft of various types in just five years. As far as Russia is concerned, we performed the ground-breaking of the Russian AW139 civil helicopter final assembly line in June in Tomilino, near Moscow. Assembly activities are expected to start in 2011, with delivery of the first AW139 following in 2012. The plant will assemble and deliver over 20 helicopters per year. We are also in the process of moving the NH90 assembly line from Vergiate to Venezia Tessera, a site formerly owned by Officine Aeronavali where assembly activities are expected to start early September.

For the USA's new VXX presidential helicopter programme, you reached an agreement with Boeing to license production of the AW101. What is AgustaWestland's strategy in the US market?

For the new VXX requirement, we carefully evaluated the situation and made a strategic decision to work with Boeing because it is the best solution for this competition. Boeing is the logical choice on this project, because they offer the advantage of a prime contractor that is at its heart a helicopter OEM. Furthermore, they enjoy an impeccable reputation and have an excellent record with the US Department of Defense customer. AgustaWestland and Boeing enjoy a long and successful history spanning over four decades. That said, it is too early to speculate on potential future joint projects. With reference to the US market we consider it very important and we are committed to evaluating future requirements and promoting our solutions to meet them.

AgustaWestland has expanded its presence in Asia and in North Africa with various programmes and is focusing on Turkey, pushing the AW149. What are your future expectations for these markets, and for those in South America and the Middle East?

We have always believed that going global is not an option, and we have aimed at expanding our worldwide presence through a network of service facilities, subsidiaries and strategic partnerships to better satisfy evolving market demand. We are here taking into consideration a variety of geographical areas and markets, considering that the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] countries and Africa already originate more that 50% of the world output and are expected to cover up to 70% in 2016.

In Asia we are competing or promoting our products for requirements in several countries, such as India, South Korea and Japan. I've already mentioned the AW119 assembly line we'll be setting up in India... We recently opened the assembly line in Libya managed by LIATEC, but we have also experienced a growing presence in the sub-Saharan African region with sales in various new countries such as Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Congo Brazzaville.

Algeria is an important customer to us with good prospects for the future. South America and the Middle East are equally important, particularly for the rising success we have experienced in the offshore and VIP/corporate markets, not to mention government and military sales in the Middle East. We have expanded our levels of service in both regions, namely through a new larger site for [Brazilian subsidiary] AgustaWestland do Brasil and through a joint venture set up with Abu Dhabi Aviation to provide enhanced support services to our growing customer base.

Regarding Turkey, following the success achieved by the T129 ATAK programme under development we now believe we are able to offer the best solution to meet the Turkish utility helicopter programme requirement, offering an even more extended and in-depth involvement of Turkish industry to develop a specific variant of the AW149.

What's the status of negotiations to acquire a majority stake in the Bell/AgustaWestland BA609 civil tiltrotor programme?

We and Bell are discussing a restructuring and optimisation of the programme and evaluating the best way to ensure the success of the BA609. Meanwhile, the first two prototypes are involved in test flights and have achieved a total of well over 500 flight hours, while an additional two prototypes will respectively join the test-flight programme in 2011 and 2012.

Source: Flight Daily News