Bristow Helicopters has yet to decide which of its UK search and rescue bases will be the first to operate the AgustaWestland AW189, following development delays to the SAR variant.
So far, Bristow has taken delivery of three of an eventual 11 SAR-roled examples of the 8.3t medium-twin, but these are not yet operational.
Inverness, the first base originally destined to utilise the AW189, went live on 1 April, flying the Sikorsky S-92 instead as a contingency measure.
Lydd, the next AW189 base to come on line, on 1 July, will also not initially use the Anglo-Italian type, says Bristow Group chief executive Jonathan Baliff.
Speaking at an Airbus Helicopters-organised event to mark Bristow’s 60th anniversary at last week’s Paris air show, Baliff said its “plan B” is to operate a pair of smaller AW139s in the role.
The first base to take the AW189s is “yet to be determined”, says Baliff.
“As soon as they are tested and available we want to get them working,” he says.
Two of the type are already being operated by Bristow in the UK for oil and gas crew-change missions, and Baliff praises the helicopter’s performance in that role.
Bristow’s proposal to the UK government for the work was based on a 10-base solution with an even split of both AW189s and S-92s. Baliff says its ultimate aim is to have “11 of both types working fully”.
Delays to the introduction of the AW189 appear to stem from slower-than-expected certification of the required full icing protection system (FIPS) on the helicopters.
Approvals testing is still ongoing, says Baliff, but he does not know when this will be completed.
“The FIPS is the primary thing we are waiting for and [AgustaWestland] is doing everything in its power to do its testing and get the aircraft ready for service on the contract,” says Baliff.
Additionally, there are several other items that the manufacturer has yet to provide a timeframe for, he says. No details were available on exactly which items are outstanding, nor on the development progress of the helicopter’s SAR-specific flight management system.
Meanwhile, another super-medium helicopter could be introduced to Bristow’s oil and gas fleet as early as this year if contract bids are successful.
Bristow is the largest operator customer for the Airbus Helicopters H175, following its order for 17 at the HAI show in March, and it is seeing “great demand” from the market for the 7.5t type, he says.
Although Baliff stresses its operational debut is more likely in 2016, he admits it “has been bid” for contracts starting this year and it “has the flexibility within our orders to accelerate deliveries”.
“If we do win, we want to start flying immediately,” he says. “It’s all about meeting the demand that we see.”
Speaking at the same event, Airbus Helicopters chief executive Guillaume Faury noted that Bristow had been the launch customer for the H225 back in 2005.
With development of its new medium-twin H160 now in full swing – the first flight took place on 13 June – the airframer is “continuing to invest in the future”, says Faury.
Although it has yet to begin taking orders for the H160 – which is aimed squarely at the oil and gas segment – Faury says he is sure that it “will be a product for Bristow in the future”.
Bristow sits on the customer advisory panel that is helping to shape the H160’s development.
“It is going to be a fabulous aircraft,” says Baliff.