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The Helicopter Division of Leonardo has delivered the 1,000th AW139, assigned to the Italian Customs Police (Guardia di Finanza) on September 20. A historical milestone for a rotary-wing development and certification programme which was publicly launched in 1998 and which was celebrated by Leonardo at its historical assembly line facility at Vergiate (Varese), near Milan. “With the AW139 the company has been able to create an extraordinary programme with international roots and with its global success this has allowed us to reach the top of the industry’s world helicopter market. Without the self-denial, the preparation and the passion of workers from different generations and nationalities who believed in and worked on its development, and who still follow it in its operational path by constantly confronting the market and customers, all this would not have been possible,” said Gian Piero Cutillo, Leonardo Helicopters’ Managing Director, speaking in front of Italian Government and local authorities, military, homeland security and police forces high ranking officers, customers, partner companies and suppliers, international media representatives.

With a first flight dated back in 2001 and a first delivery taking place in 2004, the dual-use helicopter with a 7-tonnes MTOW has earned an undisputed global market success in all civil and military sectors with more than 30% delivered platforms for public utility tasks such as search and rescue and air ambulance, law enforcement, firefighting, disaster relief, over 30% for offshore transport and around 20% for military tasks, the rest accounting for VIP, institutional and corporate transport missions. The AW139 military version has recently achieved a major order by the US Air Force with an incremental contract for up to 84 MH-139 missionized platforms which main task will be supporting the protection of nuclear ballistic missile sites. The programme sees Boeing as prime contractor, with helicopters being produced by Leonardo Helicopter at Philadephia assembly line, where around one third of the 1,000 helicopters delivered until now have been assembled. The remaining AW139 aircraft going to the Italian and international markets are being delivered by Vergiate facility, with the production involvement of Leonardo facilities in southern Italy and Poland. According to the US Air Force, deliveries for testing should start in December this year, while first operational helicopters are expected to be delivered in Fiscal Year 2021. The helicopter’s military version is today in service with Irish armed forces (6 helicopters) as first customer, Italy’s (15), Qatar’s (21) and UAE’s (11) armed forces, among others.

“The helicopter boasts orders of over 1,100 units from more than 280 customers in over 70 countries on all continents, playing a major role in the market evolution, and contributing together with other Leonardo’s new generation family helicopters in taking a 40% share of the world’s civil sector in terms of value in 2018,” said Alessandro Profumo, CEO of Leonardo, highlighting the phenomenal growth of sales from an initial objective of 400 units.

Photo: Luca Peruzzi

“The AW139 has grown significantly in just a few years, introducing since the beginning the latest safety standards and adapting to the changing needs of customers. The maximum take-off weight increased from 6.4 to 7 tons. Almost 1,000 mission kits and equipment have been certified. With advanced protection systems against icing, the AW139 can fly in all weather conditions. This model is also the only one in the world capable of continuing to fly for over 60 minutes without oil in the transmission, twice as much as the 30 minutes set by the certification authorities,” said Roberto Garavaglia, Leonardo Helicopters VP for Strategy and Innovation said presenting the helicopter programme achievements. “The leader AW139 has logged more than 15,000 flight hours, performing more than 41,000 cycles, as a testament of helicopter availability. Despite the experience and maturity achieved in 15 years of operational activity, the AW139 remains a young and modern programme, destined to play a leading role into the future. We are doing our best to make a continuous success in reaching new sale milestones,” he added.

The selection and the awarded contract by the U.S. Air Force against a severe competition opens the AW139 military version the doors for further foreign military sales (FMS) (Four AW139s in SAR configuration have been delivered to Egyptian Air Force by 2012) and can further support the direct international sales efforts of Leonardo. “Current production rate stands at around 70 units per year”, continued Garavaglia, highlighting also to the Leonardo family concept’s synergies with the larger AW189 and lighter AW169 platforms. “This family shares about 20% of common parts, 30% of common maintenance tools and ground support equipment, while training time is reduced by 40% when personnel has to switch on another family’s helicopters,” he concluded.

Luca Peruzzi