AgustaWestland on 25 February unveiled a new version of the A109 GrandNew light twin-engined helicopter with its familiar-looking, retractable landing gear replaced with fixed landing skids.

The newly-branded AW109 Trekker will be aimed at a customer set that is uncomfortable buying a helicopter with only wheels for landing gear.

“My understanding is that certain pilots and certain companies just like the ability to go straight down,” says Geoff Hoon, managing director of international business at AgustaWestland.

Hoon says the company had been “keen to get in this area for a while”.

The landing skids certainly appeal to launch customer Seven Bar, a Dallas-based aeromedical services provider. The company has operated only fixed-wing aircraft since 1947, but is expanding into the rotary-wing sector, says its senior vice-president of marketing and business development Steve Johnson.

Seven Bar liked the performance of the AW109 GrandNew compared with rivals such as the Airbus Helicopters EC135 and Bell Helicopter 429, Johnson says. But the height of the cabin floor with wheeled landing gear posed a concern.

“The higher the aircraft the easier it is to load the patients,” Johnson says. The landing skids increase the height of the cabin floor, which offers another potential safety benefit, Johnson says. The extra height means the rotor disc is spinning higher off the ground, he says.

The AW109 Trekker is scheduled to be certificated later this year and delivered from the company’s factory in Philadelphia in early 2015, Hoon says.

Though production is beginning in Philadelphia, the company will consider other assembly sites depending on how it sells, he adds.

The new version of the aircraft will continue to be powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207C turboshaft engines.