US operator Era Group has become the latest company to signal its interest in the AgustaWestland AW609 civil tiltrotor, signing a memorandum of understanding at the Heli-Expo show to develop an emergency medical services (EMS) variant.

Chris Bradshaw, Era Group chief executive, says the exclusive deal – similar to earlier agreements for other versions – will allow it to “understand the capabilities and mission profile” of the AW609, in order to draw up the business case for its operation. It will also incorporate market research into potential customer requirements, and the design of “a cabin for advanced medical care”, in order to offer “premium emergency medical services”.

However, Bradshaw stresses that Era has not made any commitment to order the AW609. “It is a joint commitment to explore the market for the aircraft. We have not specified a certain number of helicopters or a certain time for delivery.”

Although conceding it is a “low risk” move, he stresses it is a “real commitment” on Era’s part. “We are investing our people’s time and expertise,” he says.

Rival Bristow Group has already signed a pact covering the development of a specific offshore transportation variant of the 8t AW609, but Bradshaw believes the EMS market is particularly well suited to tiltrotor operations, thanks to the combination of speed and vertical lift. Maximum speed for the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-powered tiltrotor is given as 275kt (509km/h).

“Its payload is not as great as some helicopters maybe, but that’s less critical for EMS as it is for crew change operations,” he says.

Era is not targeting regular EMS operations, however, but is pitching the AW609 at “high net-worth individuals” who live or holiday in areas with limited infrastructure some distance away from a hospital, but who “still have high expectations for health care”.

India, he says, is a “very good example” of a country which fulfils its target criteria.