Italian rotorcraft maker AgustaWestland hopes to acquire control of the BA609 civil tiltrotor programme it shares with Bell Helicopter, in order to speed up the aircraft's certification and delivery to market.
Chief executive Giuseppe Orsi says negotiations are ongoing and adds that AgustaWestland's parent, the Italian industrial giant Finmeccanica, "has authorised us to conclude negotiations within certain conditions to reach this important achievement".
Orsi was speaking during the 35th annual Ambrosetti economic development conference at Lake Como, Italy, which featured a presentation of the VertiPass study on rotorcraft within the framework of a future integrated national mobility plan for Italy. The event also featured a BA609 flying display.
Also present was Finmeccanica president and chief executive Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, who forecast that the world market for BA6090s would be 500 aircraft within 10 years of first delivery, including 40-50 aircraft to be sold to Italian government agencies.
According to Orsi, BA609 certification in the US and European Union is currently on schedule for 2013. He says more than 80 aircraft have been ordered so far by some 40 customers, including government agencies, with an expected price above €20 million ($29 million) depending on configuration.
So far, the Bell-AgustaWestland BA609 joint venture has completed two of four planned prototypes, with one flying in Italy and a second in the USA. A third aircraft is currently in production.
Bell would not comment on the development.
Recent years have seen Bell's share of the world market for civil helicopters slide from just over a half of the market to barely a fifth in unit terms, with Eurocopter enjoying the dominance Bell once had. By value, figures from Teal Group analysts in Washington show Eurocopter and AgustaWestland led the 2008 civil market with 38% and 34% respectively, leaving Bell third with 11%.
But tiltrotor technology has been a boost for Bell, with the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey military tiltrotor proving popular with the US Marines. After the 2008 Farnborough air show Bell's executive vice-president for customer solutions Mike Blake said that while the company has no short-term expectations for the BA609, it believes the tiltrotor's combination of vertical lift with a tripling of range and doubling of speed compared with helicopters will one day win over civil fliers if the machines are affordable.