Leonardo Helicopters approaches next week’s HAI Heli-Expo show in Atlanta – the rotorcraft industry’s annual gathering – in a relatively comfortable position.

Orders and deliveries were brisk in 2022 as the manufacturer benefitted from a rebounding civil market and increased defence spending, notably leading to key commitments for a pair of military platforms, the AW149 and AW169M.

Gian Piero Cutillo - Leonardo Helicopters MD

Source: Leonardo Helicopters

Cutillo is upbeat about the division’s 2022 results

In the background, development work continues on the AW609 tiltrotor and Kopter AW09 – the latter having recently gained a new powerplant – to bring both into service in the coming years. However, the vagueness around their certification timelines is potentially a fly in the ointment for Leonardo Helicopters, although it is unclear whether delays are due to civil aviation regulators or underlying issues with the aircraft. In addition, there is the seemingly unresolved question of how the vertical-lift champion will approach the urban air mobility market.

Nonetheless, Gian Piero Cutillo, managing director of the helicopter division, is upbeat. Last year, he says, showed the industry making a “gradual but fast recovery to pre-pandemic levels”.

That point is likely to be reached sooner than predicted, he adds: “We expect the civil and parapublic market to get to full recovery earlier than 2024, with orders already above pre-pandemic levels.”

Details of Leonardo Helicopters’ full-year financial and order and delivery performance are still under wraps until the group releases its results on 9 March but Cutillo points to the company’s nine-month figures as indicative.

During the period to 31 September, the division saw order intake grow to €4.6 billion ($4.8 billion), almost double the €2.3 billion booked in the same period a year earlier, aided by a major commitment from Poland for 32 AW149 military helicopters worth €1.43 billion. Revenues over the nine months were also up by 16%, to €3.1 billion, and EBITA by 7.4%, to €234 million, helped by 87 deliveries in the period, against 73 in the first three quarters of 2021.

Cutillo also highlights the division’s performance across the past five years, where it has consistently brought in over €4 billion in orders, with a book-to-bill ratio above 1. “Are we pleased with our performance? Yes, definitely,” he adds.

Amid the broader optimism, there are even signs that the overall civil market upswing may extend to the long-depressed oil and gas segment. “Offshore shows a strong recovery trend from fleet utilisation and orders, both in terms of capacity expansion and fleet modernisation,” says Cutillo, noting that the flight hours for AW169s, AW139s and AW189s in the sector are “stably above pre-pandemic monthly figures”.

“Today we’re certainly in a sustainable long-term trend, balancing capacity build-up and the green transition, a very different scenario compared to the 2010s.”

Polish AW149

Source: Polish Ministry of National Defence

Sales successes last year included Poland’s order for 32 AW149s

“Today we’re certainly in a sustainable long-term trend, balancing capacity build-up and the green transition, a very different scenario compared to the 2010s.”


His reference to the ‘green transition’ is in the context of the support of offshore windfarms, but the pressure to decarbonise is being felt just as keenly in aviation as it is in the wider economy.

Rival airframer Airbus Helicopters has been clear about its green initiatives, including the rapid development and now test flights of a new technology demonstrator called DisruptiveLab. With Leonardo Helicopters comparatively quiet on the subject, there is a sense that its green ambitions do not match those of its competitor.

But Cutillo, perhaps unsurprisingly, disagrees with this analysis: “We are neither behind nor losing leadership, absolutely not! We have our own activities in place and our plans and studies in the pipeline and a clear technology development roadmap for the next 15-20 years,” he says.

Among the obvious initiatives are the planned increase in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) limits and improved flight procedures to cut fuel consumption. While not revealing any detail, Cutillo says Leonardo Helicopters’ plans also extend to “hybridisation and electrical studies”.

A significant part of that effort is being led by Kopter, the former Marenco Swisshelicopter business acquired, along with the AW09 light-single, in 2020. Part of the rationale for the purchase was to turn the Swiss-based business into the airframer’s centre of excellence for light helicopters.

Cutillo says the unit is looking at a variety of topics, including “hybrid/electrical and autonomous/remotely piloted capabilities”. Initially a hybrid version of the AW09 – which has still to achieve certification in its baseline form – could include a battery and electric motor to provide power in case of engine failure, ultimately extending to a system that enhances “efficiency and performance in the longer term”.

“Some of the new developments will be disclosed soon, once more showing the possibilities of integrating Kopter and the AW09 into our organisation,” Cutillo adds.


Meanwhile, work continues on the AW609 – a phrase uttered frequently over the last decade-plus of development – as the tiltrotor inches closer to certification.

Cutillo says the flight-test phase is in its “final stages” and the company is meanwhile ramping up its industrialisation activities, including assembly of the first production examples at its Philadelphia plant in the USA.

“We’re working collaboratively with the Federal Aviation Administration in this final stage where, clearly, the role and importance of the certification authority is critical,” he says.


Source: Leonardo Helicopters

AW609 certification flight testing is in final stages

“We won’t speculate on dates, but we’re excited about the fast pace all of this has moved forward at over the last couple of years.”

He sees the market reacting “positively” to the potential offered by the AW609, pointing an order booked in March 2022 for four units for a VIP operator. “And once in service, the AW609 will fully show the potential of what a civil-certified tiltrotor can do, paving the path for a range of new opportunities.”

Nonetheless, there is little clarity on the size of the type’s backlog; disclosed orders amount to just six aircraft. On top of which, the development by Leonardo Helicopters of the Next Generation Civil Tiltrotor – or NGCTR – under the EU’s Clean Sky 2 technology demonstrator programme could be seen by operators as an incentive to wait for a better product to arrive.

Not so, argues Cutillo: “We don’t believe the NGCTR is somehow jeopardizing the AW609, quite the opposite: it is part of our solid position in this specific fast rotorcraft domain to develop possibly a family of tiltrotors over the medium and longer term,” he says.

While Leonardo Helicopters may have a proud history in vertical flight, there has been a degree of silence on how it might approach the newest game in town: urban or advanced air mobility (AAM). There are already hundreds of electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles in development, some at an advanced stage, yet the Italian airframer has yet to even outline its plans, let alone build anything.

However, Cutillo stresses that the company’s silence does not necessarily imply inaction: “We recently registered patents for AAM concepts, with part or several different architectures registered under the same process.

“This testifies to the real commitment of Leonardo to stay at the forefront of innovation, with a gradual growth of patents presented in recent years concerning a wide range of technological solutions, some also relevant to possible AAM applications.”

Additionally studies of a business model for the segment will be performed, including an analysis of regulations, infrastructure and wider societal impacts, he says.

“Leonardo continues to study the possibilities of AAM very closely – also including optional electrical and hybrid propulsion – as part of its broader technological roadmap and leveraging its established, solid and widely-recognised expertise in integrated capabilities in the VTOL domain.”

Leonardo eVTOL patent_page-0019

Source: Leonardo

Airframer has recently filed patents for AAM designs