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  • PARIS: Interview: AgustaWestland chief executive Bruno Spagnolini

PARIS: Interview: AgustaWestland chief executive Bruno Spagnolini

Bruno Spagnolini - newly appointed chief executive of AgustaWestland - tells Flight Daily News how the company is dealing with declining European markets by pursing a growing number of overseas joint ventures, and details progress on several new programmes.

What are AgustaWestland's objectives for the show and what programme developments will be shown?

AgustaWestland is proceeding on its well-established product development strategy focused on a progressive enhancement of the existing product portfolio, on designing new models aiming at further expanding the already comprehensive product range and to continuous development of cost-effective customer support solutions. In Paris we are highlighting our current range of high-performance commercial and military helicopters as well as several new products such as the AW149 and the all new AW189 8t-class commercial helicopter we are unveiling here.

What are AgustaWestland's main objectives and market strategy for the future, with declining European markets?

Since its establishment, AgustaWestland has always pursued a three-legged strategy based on an evolving product range, enlarging its network of service and training facilities as well as establishing strategic partnerships around the world to pursue market opportunities. As the newly appointed company chief executive I'll move forward within the path of continuity, pursuing the same strategy that has firmly established AgustaWestland within the major players of the vertical lift market. Right now this strategy is allowing us to compete on the global market, overcoming specific critical market situations.

Bruno Spagnolini

What is the current status of the AW169 programme and what are the main challenges lying ahead?

AW169 programme development is progressing as planned, achieving all the programmed milestones. The aircraft incorporates several new technology features to provide the highest levels of safety and operational benefits for customers. Next-generation technologies are embedded in the rotors, blades, engines, avionics, transmission and electric power generation and distribution systems. We have to respect a very aggressive time to market scheduling with first flight in 2012, certification in 2014 and start of deliveries immediately afterwards.

What about the VXX, with Boeing, and the Common Vertical Lift Support (CVLSP) programme, and when will the aircraft be available?

We have an agreement with Boeing that allows them to offer their own version of the AW101 for the VXX requirement. Boeing will own full data rights to the AW101 and be responsible for the design, production and delivery of the aircraft. This will be a Boeing derivative of the AW101 and we expect a request for proposals for year-end, with contract award in 2014.

As far as the CVLSP programme is concerned, both the AW149 and the AW139M meet the US Air Force CVLSP mission requirement while offering substantial acquisition and operational savings and ensuring the lowest-risk, most cost-effective replacement for the CVLSP platform. We will offer the air force a schedule that meets with their CVLSP initial operational capability requirements. The RFP is expected to be issued by year-end, with a final decision in 2012.

What is the current state of the BA609 programme with Bell, how will the programme be managed in future and when is aircraft scheduled to enter in service?

I believe it would be in the best interests of the programme for AgustaWestland to assume ownership and management over the programme going forward and we are finalising our discussion with Bell on this matter. In the meantime the first two aircraft have accumulated over 580 flight hours in the USA and Italy.

Aircraft No 3 is under assembly in Cameri, Italy and will enter the flight test programme in 2012. Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency certifications and qualification for government agencies are expected in late 2015, with deliveries following in 2016. We strongly believe the tiltrotor concept is the answer to the need for overcoming the inherent limits of conventional rotorcraft in terms of speed, range and altitude and maximising the unique operational flexibility of vertical lift.

No other existing technology or concept can offer such an outstanding combination of fixed- and rotary-wing capabilities. No alternative rotorcraft design can reach the aircraft's performance, proving the most effective solution to replace mixed fleets of aircraft and helicopters in any category or size.

What are the latest developments and challenges ahead for AgustaWestland in terms of rotary-wing technology?

We are focused on a range of enhancements and brand-new technologies in a number of fields aimed at increasing operational effectiveness and capabilities, safety and efficiency while making aircraft more and more environmentally friendly, both autonomously and within our involvement in the EU's Clean Sky programme.

Areas of advancements we are devoting efforts to include avionics such as navigation systems for preferred flightpaths and all-weather capabilities, advanced open architecture, common cockpit technology to be shared among present and future models, and unique collision avoidance and warning systems.

We are developing new rotor and blade technology and committed to further improved aerodynamic efficiency also to the benefit of reduced fuel consumption and polluting emissions. We aim at a larger use of electric components replacing hydraulic actuators, for example, as well as energy saving and rationalisation technology.

Innovation must also involve maintenance and support, via advanced materials, reduced components and easy access to all systems reducing time when the aircraft is confined to the ground, and so costs. Innovation is obviously also related to the design and introduction of new conventional helicopter models into the market as well as focusing on the tiltrotor/tiltwing concepts and rotary-wing unmanned air vehicle technology.

What impact will Turkey's selection of the Sikorsky S-70i have on the AW149 development programme?

The AW149 programme is being developed as originally planned to satisfy the requirements of the Italian armed forces and flight-testing activities of the prototypes are progressing well with the aim to achieve initial operational capability in 2014. The second prototype is also attending the show.

While we were disappointed with the Turkish decision to select the S-70 instead of the all-new next-generation AW149, we see, in addition to the domestic military market, a strong worldwide market for the AW149 with over 8,000 ageing helicopters of that class expected to be replaced in the next 35 years.

How has your production plant in Poland been performing and what are the plans for the future, including AgustaWestland UAV developments?

We are continuing our investment programme to modernise and improve the efficiency of the plant aligning it to AgustaWestland's operations standards. Several contracts for SW-4 and Sokol helicopters have been received, while we delivered a first batch of modified and upgraded W-3 Sokol combat aircraft, the Gluszec, to the Polish army.

Both types are able to meet a variety of market needs, the SW-4 becoming the entry level in our product portfolio and the Sokol providing a cost-effective medium twin to effectively perform various roles such as utility, firefighting, aerial works and military missions.

We have chosen the RUAV field as our preferred third path of rotorcraft innovation in addition to conventional helicopters and tiltrotor/tiltwing concepts, and we see the SW-4 as an ideal platform to develop an unmanned rotorcraft vehicle. First manned flight is planned in early 2012 while the first unmanned flight is expected in mid-2012.

What is the status of your joint ventures with Tata Sons and Russian Helicopters to establish production plants in India and Russia, and what are the next steps?

Russia and India represent two of the most promising markets for the future with incredible business opportunities that can be fully exploited through new industrial partnerships with prime local players of mutual benefit, well beyond the usual commercial and services solutions offered.

In both cases AgustaWestland has been recognised as a reliable and a highly competitive partner to seize new business chances by selecting products that are leaders in their respective segments and which can somehow reshape the local helicopter market scenarios for relevant applications. Both joint ventures have made significant progress in the past 12 months, with new facilities under construction in Moscow and Hyderabad respectively.

The assembly line for the civil AW139 in Russia, based in Tomilino (Moscow region) and to be run by the HeliVert joint venture with Russian Helicopters, is expected to be opened this August, with the start of assembly activities in the fourth quarter this year.

Regarding the Indian rotorcraft joint venture with Tata Sons, the AW119 assembly line in Hyderabad is expected to be able to complete the assembly of the first aircraft in late 2012.

What are the latest developments in your customer support, training and supply chain sectors and what challenges lie ahead?

As a company we are managing all the challenges you are referring to by devoting efforts to ensure effectiveness and efficiency throughout the whole AgustaWestland organisation and to create closer and better partnering relationships to identify and develop new ways of doing business.

We are reducing the cost of manufacturing operations and supply chain management by lean practices and actively working with suppliers to identify and implement quality, cost control and delivery improvements. All our efforts are aimed at maximising mission effectiveness and safety with minimised costs of ownership, thus becoming through-lifecycle partners of our growing number of customers.

Expanding the number of service centres and regional customer service managers, strengthening integrated operational support models for the military, setting up regional training centres, designing our in-house training devices to meet specific customer requirements are all examples of our commitment to pursue these objectives.

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