Leonardo appears to be keeping all options open – including potential divestments – in relation to certain of its legacy helicopter programmes.

That appears to include two dedicated military platforms – the AW101 Merlin and AW159 Wildcat – produced at the helicopter division’s plant at Yeovil in the UK, throwing up fresh questions about the company’s plans for the site.

Wildcat-c-Crown Copyright

Source: Crown Copyright

The UK-built Wildcat is operated by British Army and Royal Navy, plus a handful of export customers

Uncertainty about the company’s intentions stems from a footnote to a slide shown as chief executive Roberto Cingolani presented Leonardo’s latest five-year industrial plan on 12 March.

Detailing the manufacturer’s rotorcraft portfolio “today and for the future”, the footnote says: “For AW119, AW109, AW159/Super Lynx a form of value management will be attempted, finding a suitable partner/buyer.”

In the short-term little change is planned. The light-twin AW109 is still seen as a cornerstone of Leonardo’s offering for the VIP segment, while a weapons package is being developed for the military market. The airframer will also look to take advantage of the light-single AW119’s selection by the US Navy as its future trainer. 

Meanwhile, on the Wildcat, Leonardo will evaluate the “commercial opportunity for future developments”, while for the AW101 current activities include upgrades of the helicopter’s defensive aids suite, anti-submarine warfare capabilities and automatic flight-control system.

But by the end of the industrial plan in 2028, Leonardo will for both platforms have carried out a “sustainability evaluation” of their Yeovil final assembly lines, while that same process will also be conducted for the AW159 programme as a whole.

Both production lines are currently active, although the Wildcat’s backlog is thought to include just three examples for an undisclosed North African customer. Mid-life upgrade (MLU) work is also beginning for several AW101 operators, with more – notably the UK – potentially in the pipeline.

Pressed on its strategy, Leonardo says evaluation of its products over the medium-to-long term “will take into account” the mix of new orders and MLU activity that can be captured from ongoing campaigns.

“For some legacy products, on top of ongoing programmes that continue to show strong momentum, there could also be specific opportunities for localised industrial collaboration for specific applications in various markets,” it says.

Leonardo also hopes its super-medium AW149 can form the backbone of Yeovil’s future, provided it is selected by the UK as part of its current New Medium Helicopter acquisition.

Under that programme Leonardo would establish an AW149 final assembly line at the site, serving both the domestic and export markets.

The unmanned Proteus demonstrator being developed for the UK Royal Navy could also form part of Yeovil’s future with a “potential transition to product”, the strategy discloses.