AgustaWestland pursues TR light helicopter deal

A mechanic works on the rear rotor blade of a helicopter at the Finmeccanica AgustaWestland factory in Yeovil, United Kingdom. 'We will be available for Turkey if Turkey wants to work with us,' says a company executive. (Bloomberg photo.)

A leading Italian military aviation firm that recently lost Turkey’s $3.5 billion utility helicopter competition is willing to pursue a similar deal for light utility helicopters against the same U.S. rival, a company executive has said.

“We will be available for Turkey if Turkey wants to work with us,” the AgustaWestland executive told the Hürriyet Daily News on Wednesday.

AgustaWestland lost the Turkish utility helicopter deal to the U.S. firm Sikorsky Aircraft.

The official’s remarks were in line with advice from Italian Deputy Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, who on May 10 asked the Italian company to seek to win the new Turkish contest for a partner to make light utility helicopters.

“AgustaWestland needs to pursue all opportunities and chances in the helicopter field,” Crosetto said. “They will have to fight in this tight market.”

Turkey last month selected the T-70, the Turkish version of Sikorsky Aircraft’s S-70i Black Hawk International, over the TUHP 149, the Turkish version of AgustaWestland’s AW149. Sikorsky and its Turkish partners plan to build a first batch of 109 utility helicopters, mainly for Turkey’s military and security forces. With follow-on orders, the number of helicopters manufactured is expected to reach 600. The utility helicopters weigh about 10,000 kilograms.

The light utility helicopters will weigh between 4,500 and 5,500 kilograms. Turkey plans to build hundreds of such military and civilian helicopters with a foreign partner.

A new clash?

Turkey will soon begin to design and develop a military and civilian light utility helicopter, most probably with a foreign partner, and possibly with Sikorsky Aircraft, procurement chief Murad Bayar said May 9.

Bayar said Sikorsky, a leading manufacturer of various helicopters, did not have a helicopter in the category of light utility platforms, the type of chopper Turkey wants to develop. “Turkey and Sikorsky Aircraft can work on this matter together,” he said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, we are ready to work with any other companies.”

Turkey and Sikorsky Aircraft last year signed a memorandum of understanding under which both sides would explore modalities. That memorandum of understanding has now expired, and the two sides are working to update it.

Now, though, AgustaWestland also seems to be entering the competition. The Italian company has two helicopters, AW139 and AW169, in or near the light utility helicopter category.

Despite the presence of these two platforms, AgustaWestland would also be pleased to work on a completely new helicopter, if Turkey wanted to do so, according to the company official who spoke to the Daily News.

“If Turkey wants to jointly develop something new to bolster its know-how, we also can start from scratch. We have experience in this field,” the official said.

“It looks like we may see a renewed rivalry between Sikorsky and AgustaWestland,” said an Ankara-based defense analyst.

AgustaWestland earlier grabbed two contracts, altogether worth billion of dollars, to build with Turkish partners 60 T-129 attack helicopters, Turkish versions of its AW129. The first chopper should be delivered late next year.

Separately, Ankara is negotiating with the United States on a deal to buy at least six CH-47 heavy lift helicopters made by Boeing.

Umit Enginsoy, HDN