Bell/Agusta Aerospace (BAAC) has begun equipment certification tests for the offshore variant of its AB139 medium twin helicopter, following Italian approval earlier this month (Flight International, 1-7 July).

The AgustaWestland-led civilian aircraft is based on the US Coast Guard-selected Lockheed Martin/ Northrop Grumman future vertical take-off/landing, recovery and surveillance version of the 6,000kg (13,215lb) AB139.

The company has started testing flotation kits, life rafts and the helicopter emergency egress lighting system and expects certification by the beginning of next year. AgustaWestland has developed much of the equipment itself at its Vergiate plant near Milan.

US Federal Aviation Administration civil approval is expected in the interim, with further testing required for the Honeywell Primus Epic integrated control and display system. This will be rated at the outset for single-pilot instrument flight rules, says Roberto Garavaglia, AgustaWestland vice-president marketing.

Garavaglia says about half of the 25 12-seat aircraft ordered by non-governmental customers are destined for offshore operators. "Now that the aircraft is certificated, our focus is on improving the product. The offshore modification kit is one example of customer focus," he says.

Launch customers include oil worker transport specialists in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea and western Africa, he adds. "We have seen extremely positive interest from the market. The average passenger load between oil installations is reducing from around 19 to 12, which will dramatically change the market."

Source: Flight International