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Light-singles 'not a priority', says Leonardo Helicopters chief

Leonardo Helicopters has frozen plans to introduce the AW009 – an upgraded and US-certificated version of the SW-4 produced by its PZL Swidnik subsidiary – and instead will concentrate on its core range.

The manufacturer unveiled the rebranded AW009 in 2016, proposing a more powerful Rolls-Royce M250-C30P engine and a new Genesys Aerosystems cockpit. US Federal Aviation Administration certification was being sought for the modified light-single.

But speaking on a pre-Heli-Expo briefing call, divisional managing director Gian Piero Cutillo said the project had now "moved to the right", noting that "it is not a priority".

He declines to specify when the programme might resume, but says it is unlikely to be in the medium term.

"We don't move up to that for the time being," he says, agreeing that the effort is essentially frozen.

The light-single AgustaWestland AW119Kx will remain Leonardo's main presence in the segment for the time being, he says, noting that other areas are higher priorities for investment.

"At the moment we are really focussed to strengthen the product that we have," says Cutillo, although he says it is "not giving up" on the effort.

Aside from the development of the AW609 tiltrotor, the airframer is beginning to evaluate how to evolve the best-selling 7t AW139 to meet renewed competition in the intermediate weight class with the arrival next year of the Airbus Helicopters H160.

"We are taking some decisions on how we want to re-inforce and refresh and resize the product and when," he says.

"It could imply a number of things. We believe that now is the time to start thinking about how we want to develop this product and when. Obviously we will upgrade the AW139, but not today."

Timing will be crucial, Cutillo notes. "It is important to decide what to do and when to do it. But we are seriously thinking on that," he says.

Any decision on the AW139 will be crucial for Leonardo: the intermediate-twin remains a strong seller, with the 1,000th example set to be delivered in 2019.

In addition, the company is working to add additional capabilities, such as icing protection, to the medium-twin AW169, as well as bringing changes to bear on the super-medium AW189 to drive down both the acquisition price and the cost per flight hour.

Unlike its rivals, Leonardo has yet to launch an eVTOL urban mobility project, but Cutillo points out that with "limited resources", other areas must take priority.

However, he also notes that while some companies are touting concepts "the AW609 is much closer to a product".

No other company has the same level of maturity "in terms of this new way of having vertical lift", he says.