Leonardo Helicopters believes it could sell over 500 examples of the AW149 to export customers if the super-medium-twin is selected by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for its New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement.
“If the UK MoD were to select the AW149 the export opportunities on the back of that are huge,” Nick Whitney, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters UK, told journalists at a pre-DSEI event on 1 September.
Whitney says that Leonardo Helicopters “conservatively” forecasts a market for “500-plus” AW149s “in the next decade” on the back of selection by the UK, an operator he describes as a “reference customer”. However, government analysis of the company’s figures suggest the actual total could be higher still, he adds.
To date, the AW149 has secured just two customers: Egypt, which is taking 24 examples, and Thailand, with five.
AW149s for the UK and the majority of export customers would be built at the company’s Yeovil facility in southwest England. However, a separate production line would remain at Leonardo Helicopters’ plant in Vergiate, Italy, to service select contracts.
In March as part of its Integrated Review, the MoD announced its plan to retire the Royal Air Force’s fleet of 23 Puma HC2s by mid-decade and replace them, plus three other rotorcraft types, with the NMH.
However, despite the tight deadline, industry remains in the dark as to the precise requirements for the new helicopter.
At present, Leonardo Helicopters is putting its effort behind the AW149, while Airbus Helicopters is likely to pitch a military version of its H175, and Sikorsky could offer the UH-60M or S-70i variants of its Black Hawk. But should a larger aircraft be required, then the H225M and NH Industries NH90 could also be contenders.
While acknowledging the H175M and Black Hawk as “credible competitors”, Whitney describes the latter as “older technology” which would be “more costly to run and maintain”.
If an accelerated timeline is needed, then AW149 deliveries could begin in as little as 18 months after contract signature, “or even less, depending on the requirement”, Whitney says.
Leonardo Helicopters will have its AW149 demonstrator aircraft on display at DSEI.
Separately, the multi aperture infrared (MAIR) threat warning system produced by Leonardo’s electronics division has now entered series production. MAIR will be baseline equipment on the Italian army’s AW169M-derived Light Utility Helicopter.