AgustaWestland expects to earn FAA clearance for its AW609 tiltrotor by 2016 and will start certification flights early next year.

Despite the prolonged AW609 development schedule, the company still holds around 70 cash-backed commitments from 40 customers in 15 countries. Having acquired its remaining stake in the program from Bell Helicopter last year, AgustaWestland is now in full control of the program.

The AgustaWestland Tiltrotor company has been formed in Arlington, Texas and is expanding its facility and growing the workforce there to 150. Another 250 are working on the program’s integrated team in Cascina Costa, Italy. The AW609 first prototype is in Arlington, with the second in Italy. A third is being assembled in Italy and will fly in 2013, when it will be followed by a fourth.

The first two aircraft have logged over 650 flying hours since first flight in 2006, and so far have explored 85% of the flight envelope. Bruno Spagnolini, AgustaWestland CEO, says the company market forecast is conservatively set at 450-500 aircraft over 20 years. He claims there will be nothing like the AW609 on the market for at least 8-10 years. “It is not just a matter of flying faster than a conventional helicopter will ever do, the AW609 will be a game changer, an all-weather aircraft with a range/speed/payload combination and a level of comfort due to cabin pressurization which a helicopter will never offer.”

To be successful the AW609 needs to be economically competitive and Spagnolini says now the program is under sole AgustaWestland ownership, it will aim to cut costs and speed up development. This will be achieved by streamlining the organization as well as processes. The price target is roughly 50% more than for a helicopter of equivalent weight.

The main area for improvement is the avionics suite, which will be replaced by a new state-of-the-art digital glass cockpit and a satellite-based navigation suite. Currently AgustaWestland is working on a potential configuration which will exploit what has been done for the AW189 and AW169. The company will also optimize performance and will certificate the aircraft for higher operating weights when operating in a short take-off and landing (STOL) mode. Initially the AW609 will be certified at the same maximum take-off weight for both vertical and STOL operations, but the aircraft will offer a better range/payload operating in STOL mode.

The AW609 is in concurrent development with the AW189 and AW169 helicopters. Spagnolini says that the development programs are kept under strict control to avoid any time slippage or cost increase. “Time to market is crucial to the success of a program,” he says. “We have seen it clearly with the AW139, which became a best seller and so far has more than 630 orders.”

AgustaWestland wants to keep a similar marketing lead with the AW189 and AW169. They are selling well ahead of their certification which is planned for 2013 for the AW189 and 2014 for the AW169, which is set to fly this year. With these two helicopters AgustaWestland is entering new market segments and is pushing the “family” concept.

During HeliExpo here, AgustaWestland announced a record number of new orders, which, including the AW119KE and the GrandNew, totalled more than 100 aircraft worth in excess of 730 million euro ($960.8 million). Last year AgustaWestland logged new orders for 200 helicopters and delivered almost 200, however 2012 is set to be a better year. “And I don’t see why we should not meet our target for 2012, which is a two-digit operating margin” says Spagnolini.