AgustaWestland has launched a beefed-up version of its AW139 twin-engined helicopter, upping the maximum take-off weight (MTOW) to 7t from the present optional upper limit of 6.8t.

The new increased gross weight retrofit kit takes the baseline rotorcraft’s MTOW from 6.4t at present and is an option on all AW139s.

Industry observers view the move as a direct response to Airbus Helicopters’ introduction of the much anticipated X4 – now called the H160 – which it has pitched squarely at the AW139. The announcements were made nearly simultaneously at the HAI Heli-Expo show.

The heavier AW139 achieves the increased payload capacity with reinforcements to the tail boom and modified landing gear and tyres. Power still comes from two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C engines.

James Wang, AgustaWestland’s senior-vice president of marketing, says the aircraft has surplus power that the company has found a way to tap into. However, the retrofit does negatively impact the aircraft’s performance while hovering in and out of ground effect, he says.

Operators of existing AW139s – of which there are about 730 examples in service – can integrate the retrofit kit to gain either an extra 600kg (1,320lb) or 200kg of payload, AgustaWestland says, depending on whether they already have the higher MTOW kit installed. The company has orders for 900 of the type from more than 220 customers.

Additionally, AgustaWestland already is integrating baseline weight-saving kits on new AW139s built in 2015. Those kits offer a 100kg increase in payload. With the 7t kit also installed, the total increase in payload is 700kg. Deliveries of those baseline-upgraded aircraft will begin later this year, with the rotorcraft to be assembled at plants in Italy and the USA.

The company sees the 7t AW139 as a competitor to existing production aircraft, including Airbus Helicopters’ larger EC175 – now re-designated the H175 – on long-range missions with up to 12 passengers. The aircraft are aimed at the offshore oil-and-gas market.

Configured for offshore missions, the 7t AW139 will have a flight radius of 230nm (426km) when carrying eight passengers, AgustaWestland says.