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Leonardo drops plans for AW169 production in USA

Faced with difficult market conditions and a problematic initial ramp-up, Leonardo has dropped plans to build AgustaWestland AW169 helicopters in the USA.

Its initial proposal called for two assembly lines for the medium twin – one in Vergiate, Italy and a second in Philadelphia in the USA to serve the North American market.

“For the time being we don’t see an immediate need for a second build line in Philadelphia for the AW169,” says Stefano Bortoli, sales and marketing senior vice-president at Leonardo’s helicopter division.

“The plan was made a few years back and as managers we have the responsibility to adapt plans to the existing market circumstances. If we have made changes it is because there were sound reasons to do so.”

Instead, production at Philadelphia will initially concentrate on the AW119Kx light single and the AW139 medium twin, says Bortoli, with the later addition of the AW609 tiltrotor. “Between those there’s more than enough to manage.”

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In addition, he hopes additional demand for the AW119Kx – also known as the Koala – can be generated by improvements to the helicopter’s certificated performance.

Following a series of trials recently completed in the USA, it is seeking US Federal Aviation Administration approval to increase the 2.8t type’s service ceiling to 24,000ft, a significant increase over the current figure of 15,000ft. “We think this has value for the market,” says Bortoli.

The change in strategy in Philadelphia – which Bortoli insists is not a downgrade of its role – comes amid a wider push by the manufacturer to increase production flexibility across all models.

This will see a higher level of standardisation earlier in the assembly process, leaving role-specific modifications to “the latest possible stage”.

Bortoli is hopeful that this will “cut out” two to three weeks from the total production time.

“We are trying to do things in the smartest way possible. It is a way to respond to demand which is up and down and when it comes we have to adapt – we can’t turn an order away.”

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