Flight testing of the 8-metric-ton AgustaWestland AW189 will accelerate this year following the Dec. 21 first flight of the first of two prototypes.

The helicopter maker is targeting certification of the 16-18-seater next year, with customer deliveries due to begin in 2014. Bristow Group is the first large fleet operator to commit to the helicopter.

First flight of the twin General Electric CT7-2E1-powered AW189 was completed at the Cascina Costa plant in Italy about a month later than forecast. The first prototype will be used for avionics systems testing and to validate offshore equipment, with the second aircraft—which is scheduled to begin flight testing this year—slated for load survey work.

Unveiled last year at the Paris air show, the AW189—a derivative of the military AW149—is less than 59 ft. long, which enables it to operate from existing helipads on oil-drilling rigs and vessels. With 16 passengers on board, the helicopter has a radius of 140 nm, although several fuel-tank options will enable it to fly farther, cruising at 145-150 kt. The helicopter also is designed for a mission radius of 110 nm with 18 passengers, or 200 nm in the ultra-long-range 12-passenger setup.

Flight information will be displayed on four 8 X 10-in. screens on the Rockwell Collins avionics suite. A four-axis digital autopilot, traffic collision avoidance system, health and usage monitoring system, and enhanced ground proximity warning system will be installed as standard.