Leonardo Helicopters has begun early discussions with Italy regarding the possible acquisition of its AW169 and AW609 models.

Rome needs to replace an ageing fleet of legacy Bell and Agusta-Bell types – including 205/206s, 212s and 412s – operated by both the military and governmental bodies such as the coastguard and Guardia di Finanza.

Roberto Garavaglia, senior vice-president of competitive analysis and strategy at the manufacturer, says it is proposing the 4.8t AW169 medium-twin for the nascent requirement.

Talks are at a "preliminary" stage and are about "exploring options", he says, "but it is an opportunity".

If Italy selects the AW169 for the army or air force, the country would become the launch customer for the military M variant, said Garavaglia, speaking at SMI's Helicopter Technology Central and Eastern Europe conference in Prague on 23 May.

In addition, Leonardo sees a possible role for the AW609 tiltrotor in the Italian inventory as a long-range search and rescue or maritime patrol asset.

"It is a matter of finding the proper role," says Garavaglia. "There is not a firm requirement but there are discussions and exploration about how it could serve some of Italy's needs."

Other nations appear interested in the AW609 for fast insertion of special forces troops, says Garavaglia, while declining to name potential customers.

Although it is "not a huge cabin" on the tiltrotor, "it is large enough to take six troops for insertion", he says.

Civil certification of the AW609 is due in late 2019, although separate military qualification may also be sought.

Leonardo is also evaluating potential modifications to the weapons pylons on the AW139M intermediate-twin, to better cope with changing mission requirements or new armaments such as guided rockets.

In addition, the manufacturer is understood to be considering the introduction of a common weapons system across its military helicopters, similar to the HForce initiative launched by rival Airbus Helicopters.

Source: FlightGlobal.com