AgustaWestland has scored a major breakthrough for its troubled AW609 programme, with a tentative order from the United Arab Emirates Joint Aviation Command (JAC) for three of the developmental tiltrotors, plus three options.

To be configured for search and rescue missions, the JAC will become the launch customer for the variant and help to shape its configuration.

The deal comes just days after a fatal crash in northern Italy of a prototype AW609, which left two test pilots dead and has raised questions about the programme’s future.

Explaining its selection of the tiltrotor, Maj Gen Abdulla Al Sayed Al Hashemi of the UAE defence ministry, said it would significantly improve the service’s SAR capability.

AW609 press conference at the Dubai air show 2015


“It gives us the flexibility of [both] rotary and fixed-wing aircraft,” he says, citing its 275kt (509km/h) speed and 750nm (1,390km) range - faster and further than conventional helicopters. It already uses 11 AW139 intermediate twins for SAR missions.

The deal has yet to be formally concluded, but the partners will work to finalise it “in the short future”, says Al Hashemi.

“I will be on board the first flight,” he says, “although not as an injured person.”

Deliveries of the JAC’s aircraft are expected to begin in around 2019.

Daniele Romiti, chief executive of AgustaWestland, says the agreement shows there is “major trust” in the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-powered tiltrotor.

“We are not celebrating too much because it is too close to what happened, but we have a responsibility to overcome the situation,” he says.

“It proves we are not wrong in the selection of this architecture.”

He describes the JAC as a “reference” for SAR operations, and notes that its pilots have already test flown the aircraft.

Backlog for the type, which is scheduled for certification in 2018, is over 55 aircraft, says Romiti.

See all the latest news, analysis and opinion from the Dubai air show.

Source: Flight Daily News