Oil and gas support services operator Bristow Group has agreed to work with AgustaWestland to optimise the AW609 for commercial operations, as it endorses the capabilities of the first civil tiltrotor to enter certification testing.
AgustaWestland displayed an AW609 emblazoned with the Bristow and Eastern Airways – its UK-based regional airline – liveries in the Heli-Expo exhibit hall. In the long history of developing civil tiltrotor technology, it is the most visible sign yet that a new era of rotorcraft technology is dawning.
Jonathan Baliff, president and chief executive of Bristow, believes there are “tremendous opportunities” for using the $24 million tiltrotor with 275kt (509km/h) speed and the ability to land vertically.
In addition to its traditional rotorcraft operations, Bristow is expanding into the fixed-wing world through the acquisitions of regional airlines in the UK and Australia – Airnorth and Eastern Airways – that are dedicated to shuttling work crews to smaller airports, frequently for onward transportation by helicopter.
With an aircraft such as the AW609, Bristow now sees an opportunity to offer a complete logistics service with one aircraft type, Baliff says.
Though launched 18 years ago, AW609 still remains two years away from achieving civil certification with the US Federal Aviation Administration.
As the fly-by-wire aircraft continues certification testing, Bristow will work with AgustaWestland to refine the configuration, maintenance requirements and operational tasks. Bristow also will recommend upgrades or modifications to the AW609, if necessary.
The agreement is limited to the development phase and does not commit Bristow to acquire the AW609 after it achieves certification.
It does allow Bristow exclusive access to AgustaWestland’s programme team prior to certification, so that the aircraft can be optimised to serve the company’s commercial purposes.
AgustaWestland, which aquired former partner Bell Helicopter’s share in the programme in 2011, says the AW609 has nearly 60 customers across a range of missions.