AgustaWestland is introducing a modular family concept for its helicopter line-up, representing a change in mindset, which chief executive Bruno Spagnolini says must be implemented to ensure the future success of the Italian manufacturer. Spagnolini talks to Flightglobal about the Finmeccanica-owned company's efforts to expand its industrial footprint in key growth markets and put the required global support infrastructure in place.

AgustaWestland is developing a new family of commercial helicopters based on common platforms and systems. How does this approach fit with Finmeccanica's strategy and what progress have you made towards achieving this goal?

The 'family concept' is evidence of our product strategy and investments made in new technology. AgustaWestland is the first rotorcraft manufacturer introducing a real family of next generation commercial helicopters into the market. The AW139 has been a driver for our expansion in the market. We benefitted from lessons learned on this model to develop the AW169 and AW189, so establishing the advantage of common design philosophy across a range of platforms. This multi-role rotorcraft family serves a wide range of missions, minimises operating costs and enhances operational flexibility. Thanks to maintenance, training and technological commonalities, the AgustaWestland product family is setting a new standard in helicopter fleet management. By doing so, we are confident we can meet the diversified and evolving requirements of the global commercial market. We've quickly found initial success with orders already logged for either all three, or two out of three family types, from large fleet operators such as Weststar, Bristow Group, Bond Aviation, Bell Air and Gulf Helicopters. A reduced time-to-market is another key factor in addition to technology, safety standards and capability. I firmly believe this 'family concept'-based strategy must be implemented across the company, helping our mentality to further progress for future success. This strategy requires growing awareness and an open-minded attitude and it should be extended to our entire constantly-evolving product range in the medium-long term. This is what I call the virtuous circle of continuous product development, meaning that, in the case of the family, each innovation or enhancement installed in one of helicopters' types could be transferred to the other models to their benefit, in order to allow the family itself to stay at the forefront of technology, mission effectiveness, quality and market competitiveness.

AgustaWestland is continuing to invest in advanced tiltrotor technology and even unmannned air vehicles. How do you see market prospects for the AW609 and what is the development roadmap for your UAV product line?

AgustaWestland is continuing to play a leading role in new and revolutionary technologies such as the AW609. With two prototypes flying in the USA and Italy having accumulated 700h, and two more prototypes under construction in Italy, we are targeting certification in 2016. The AW609 will feature the latest technology to meet the most recent requirements and we are assessing new mission procedures, such as short take-off/landing, which has advantages for search and rescue, for example. A co-leader in the European Clean Sky project, AgustaWestland is also investigating the next generation of tiltrotor/tilt-wing as the company believes this is the best way forward to maximise the flexibility and effectiveness of rotorcraft in the future. We are then carrying on development of a first rotary-wing UAV based on the PZL-Swidnik SW-4 helicopter and we expect to start flight tests in manned/unmanned configurations by the end of the year.

In the military sector, AgustaWestland is continuing to develop the AW149 8t helicopter, as well as offering militarised versions of the commercial AW139 and incoming AW169. Meanwhile, work continues on the AW109 LUH, AW159, T129 attack helicopter with Turkish industries, and multinational NH90. What are the commercial prospects for these various programmes?

Governments show growing interest in commercial off-the-shelf and dual-use helicopters, with AgustaWestland offering such platforms. We delivered the first AW139Ms to their launch customer, the Italian air force, which is using them for SAR purposes while waiting for the AW149. The first three AW159s have been delivered to the UK Ministry of Defence on time and on budget and we are offering it to several potential customers, with Denmark and South Korea now having tenders. The first T129 delivery by Turkish Aerospace Industries to the Turkish Land Forces Command is expected soon. Its operational readiness will further support its promotion in the market where we see various export opportunities. The operational capabilities and technology of the T129 testify the success of our partnership with Turkish industry.

AgustaWestland's Venice Tessera plant will play a significant role, not only for assembly and delivery, but as a real NH90 programme hub, with support services, customisation and upgrade. We are targeting new opportunities such as the Indian navy requirement for new naval helicopters. The AW101 is worth a mention as we received, in recent years, orders from undisclosed customers, now taking delivery of their aircraft, whilst the Indian air force will start receiving its AW101s next autumn. Regarding the AW149, we see good prospects worldwide in addition to the Italian MoD. It is also the best solution to meet the new Polish MoD helicopter requirements, leveraging on the full involvement of PZL-Swidnik for its development and production. The AW169M is then a new development being considered.

AgustaWestland is rationalising production in domestic markets and expanding its industrial presence in growth markets. How does this fit in with the company's global strategy?

Concerning domestic markets, with new products under development and an expanding range, as well as an evolving market scenario, we need to align our production activities and operations consistently. The Yeovil plant in the UK, for example, will have a relevant part in the design and production of critical AW169 components, meaning the site will enter the civil production business for the first time. Differentiating operations at Yeovil will allow us to respond to the changing balance between reduced defence spending and growth potential for commercial and parapublic applications in UK. We are strengthening our industrial presence in fast growing markets which show huge potential: Russia, China and India. The CAH [Change Agusta Helicopter] joint venture in China is carrying on its industrial activities and this market shows enormous opportunities. The Tomilino, Moscow-based AW139 assembly line is now operational and the HeliVert JV with Russian Helicopters will serve both Russian and CIS markets with deliveries starting by year-end. The Indian Rotorcraft JV's assembly line in Hyderabad is being built and we expect to start production in 2013.

Another pillar of the company's development in the international market is the strengthening of the global support network to address the company's growing base, and a strong development in training and mission support systems. Can you elaborate on the company's efforts in these sectors and future trends?

Overall support services account for almost 40% of the company's revenues, so representing a growing part of our performance and competitiveness. We have increasingly shaped ourselves as a total capability provider, with military and commercial customers asking more and more, not only in terms of platforms, but also for capabilities, allowing them to maximise effectiveness and safety while minimising costs. Today, we boast a network of more than 80 service centres worldwide, and we will expand it.

The new AgustaWestland Aviation Services JV with Abu Dhabi Aviation is set to carry out a range of services. We are offering HUMS 'Web Services', becoming the first helicopter manufacturer introducing anomaly detection technology worldwide, starting with the AW139. On the military side, the IOS [Integrated Operational Support] scheme adopted in the UK, for example, is delivering high cost effectiveness and it will cover the AW159 also.

Training is equally important. We have started establishing AgustaWestland regional authorised training centres with Malaysia as the first example. We developed in-house simulation devices and we are expanding Sesto Calende with a new building to host nine new simulators plus six new flight training devices, including the ones for the new products. Crew and technicians training for the platforms across the family will benefit from the aforementioned commonalities. Last but not least are the mission planning systems we are offering various customers such as New Zealand, the Netherlands and Italy for various models including the AW109 LUH, NH90 and AW101.

Source: Flight Daily News