Leonardo has pushed back the timeline for the certification of its AW609 civil tiltrotor by another year in a bid to further mature the aircraft.

Gian Piero Cutillo, managing director for Leonardo’s helicopter business, said recent internal reviews into the Italian manufacturer’s programs had prompted him to push the deadline for certification back from the end of 2018 to the end of 2019 by taking “a more conservative and realistic approach” to the tiltrotor’s certification program. “We want to make sure it is reliable,” he explained, adding that the next two years would be “quite intense” in terms of testing to bring the aircraft to market.

The high-speed rotorcraft, which initially was developed in conjunction with Bell Helicopter, first flew in 2003 but has faced many delays. The loss of the second prototype, when two copilots were killed during flight testing in Italy, had a significant effect on the program’s timeline.

“We are starting into a very concrete phase of the program,” Cutillo explained. He added that pushing the certification date back also reflected market needs.

The company is planning to fly the fourth prototype this year. It will be in a preproduction standard featuring the full Rockwell Collins Fusion avionics suite planned for production aircraft. Leonardo also is getting ready to work more closely with customers to better understand their needs, Cutillo said.

Contrary to previous reports, the United Arab Emirates Joint Helicopter is now unlikely to be the AW609 launch customer for the wider program, but it still will be the first operator of the dedicated search-and-rescue version.

It is unclear how many AW609s have been ordered, but Cutillo acknowledges that the company will have to sell “quite a significant number of units” to break even.