Leonardo Helicopters has again pushed back the certification and service entry of its AgustaWestland AW609 tiltrotor, but insists that the latest programme slippage will ensure it delivers a mission-ready aircraft.
The move comes after an in-depth review of the programme by the division's new managing director Gian Piero Cutillo, who was appointed in September 2017.
In November last year, Cutillo had given "early 2019" as the likely certification date for the AW609. However, speaking during a pre-Heli-Expo briefing, Cutillo said that the milestone is now anticipated at the "end of 2019", with deliveries beginning "immediately after".
Cutillo says that the he assessed all of the company's development activities "before Christmas", with the AW609 "one of the first projects" reviewed in order to "make sure that it is a reliable date".
Taking into account the amount of test points still to be addressed, plus the complexity of a first-of-a-kind certification process, "there is quite an intense couple of years in front of us", he says.
Describing the latest target as "realistic", Cutillo says it has been derived from a "deep assessment of the project".
A fourth prototype of the fly-by-wire AW609 will emerge later this year, he says, completing the flight-test fleet. Simultaneously, the company is to work with a number of undisclosed launch customers to define mission profiles for the tiltrotor.
Part of the reason for the latest delay is to ensure that the company can deliver an aircraft to customers with any mission-specific modifications already certificated.
"That will give us information in the later stage of the development phase and give us information on how [the AW609] will be effective in the market.
"The next couple of years will be a very important phase – not only technologically speaking to reach maturity and certification – but we have to evaluate together with customers how we can really make and penetrate the market."
Cutillo confirms that the United Arab Emirates has yet to firm up its tentative agreement for three search and rescue-roled examples, but says an agreement is "very close".
The airframer has also been working with US operators Bristow Group and Era Group to define the requirements for offshore transportation and emergency medical services variants, respectively. However, neither has placed an order for the Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67A-powered aircraft.
Cutillo declines to reveal further customers for the type, but says that Leonardo Helicopters needs to sell "quite significant numbers of units" in order to break even on the programme.
The AW609 programme, in one guise or another, has been in progress since the late 1990s, with a first flight taking place in March 2003.
Certification has been pushed back multiple times as a result of design changes, certification complexity and a fatal 2015 crash during testing which resulted in a temporary suspension of flight activities and the destruction of the programme's second prototype.