AgustaWestland plans to begin flight testing of a second AW189 this year as it remains on track for a 2013 certification of its new AW189 eight-ton-class twin-engine helicopter. The company displayed the helicopter – unveiled during the Paris Air Show in June – for the first time during the 2012 Heli-Expo in Dallas. The company also revealed its first major order for the helicopter, a 15-helicopter deal from Qatar operator Gulf Helicopters.

The order builds on an existing relationship with Gulf Helicopters, which also operates a fleet of 13 AW139s and has five more on order. Owned by Qatar petroleum, Gulf Helicopters will use the new AW189s for offshore transport missions.

AgustaWestland is targeting the offshore and search-and-rescue markets with the helicopter, which can be configured to seat 16 with a “high-density” 18-seat option.

AgustaWestland has not specified further order numbers, but says it has secured a number of sales from offshore oil and gas support operators, including Bristow Helicopters, Weststar Aviation Services of Malaysia and Bel Air of Denmark.

“We see good potential for the AW189 in North and South American markets for both onshore and offshore missions,” says AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini. “We are confident as we progress towards certification that many more operators will select the AW189 as their new generation helicopter for search and rescue, offshore transport and parapublic missions.”

The prototype flew in December 2011 and will be used for avionics system testing. The second prototype, which will follow this year, will be used for search and rescue and offshore mission kits qualification. Spagnolini concedes the helicopter is on an aggressive timetable.