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Redefining Rotorcraft Ideals

With a strong Anglo-Italian heritage behind its constantly growing legacy, Leonardo Helicopters might sound unfamiliar to the commoner but within the rotorcraft segment, it is a prominent brand formerly known as AgustaWestland. Now in its new-found lease of life under the newly consolidated Leonardo-Finmeccanica multinational parent company, Leonardo Helicopters has set its sights on contributing and improving the VIP missions market, with a keen focus on redefining rotorcraft luxury. The discussion is also  one that involves the various factors behind a helicopter purchase.

Leonardo Helicopters offers a portfolio of products that cater for many private operator’s needs, including those owned and flown by individual pilots, corporations, yacht owners, and VIP air transport or charter services. While the Italian brand remains focused throughout most main markets and regions, they see a number of opportunities in the near term in both Brazil (over 20 AW169s sold in Brazil for corporate operations) and also here, in Southeast Asia, especially for the VIP missions market. The latter region recently also experienced a demo tour with an AW169 recently some weeks back for existing operators of Leonardo’s aircraft and new prospective customers were also given the sampling.

As it stands, the Italian marque claims that it maintains a 50 per cent share in the multi-engine segment whilst playing a key role along with other big players in the global VIP/corporate missions market. A quick Google search will tell you that its very close to the truth, with only a handful of other helicopter manufacturers in the game. Leonardo’s wide range of dedicated rotorcraft is among the largest and with such a variety, Leonardo Helicopters can take on the task of servicing some of the more stringent and also new emerging markets like Southeast Asia, particularly in the VIP/corporate missions segment.

A big reason for this direction to cater to VIP and corporate transport is simply down to how the Rome-based company has interpreted the rise in market demand and growth. Leonardo Helicopters sees a demand in this sector growing for a variety of reasons, most notably in the fact that more and more companies see the value in helicopter and point to point transportation.

Current and potential customers, and operators, are becoming increasingly aware of what the latest technology in aviation can offer, and of course, specifically, what and how helicopters can play a crucial role in contributing to the expansion of an owner’s business.

At a very general glance, the newer generation of helicopters and its related technology, bring a much more comprehensive safety standard (not to mention comfort) in all kinds of weather conditions. By default, higher performance with each new rotorcraft  is constantly reaching new heights, something that can be seen in Leonardo Helicopters’ very own AW169. It is the perfect example to show how, in terms of maximum speed and single-engine inoperative, Leonardo Helicopters is the fastest and most competent in each of its competing classes.

As far as growth from a regional perspective is concerned, Leonardo Helicopters maintain a strong focus in Europe as it is still a very important region while recently casting its gaze onto Latin America, particularly with the aforementioned new AW169 helicopter model. Asia and Middle East have, in the last decade, also proven to be important too, which is why Leonardo Helicopters are aggressively promoting their latest solutions on this side of the world with very good feedback. Of course, a big part to Leonardo’s market entry depends on the local infrastructure and the regulations that surround each location/country.

Another factor that has made Leonardo Helicopters focus more on the VIP transport market is simply down to how many new customers have approached the brand after experience flying with a charter or fractional service. When their need or want for an aircraft rises to requiring a more dedicated and personal aircraft, so does their curiosity to explore possibilities. While most new helicopter customers do come from the fixed wing world, given that fixed-wing travel is more well-known and accessible, many tend to pick up the advantages of rotorcraft air travel as it is easily understood. This is why Leonardo Helicopters places strong attention to their product range, besides their service and networking functions.

Even so, some of Leonardo’s most demanding corporate and VIP customers prefer to remain within the manufacturer’s warranty period for their own peace of mind. These same persons only prefer an upgrade every few years for this very reason. There are additional economic factors too, like taxation structures that also influence purchase decisions. There is also the most common reason behind a helicopter purchase– VIP and private customers often want to fly in the latest and greatest aircraft to take advantage of safety, performance, and technological upgrades.

Since all of these factors point back to the customer, Leonardo Helicopters pay close attention to building aircrafts that are unique and this can be seen in how nearly all of its production models are suitable for multi-mission operations. Each model can be customised on the production line to meet the order of specific customers. One example of an aircraft that is as versatile and has been seemingly preferred by VIP and corporate customers include the stellar AW109 series, the latest of which is the all-new AW139 and the AW169.

Capable of comfortably hosting up to ten passengers in its large unobstructed cabin, the AW169 features some of the latest technology such as APU mode, advanced dynamic components, an all-electric landing gear and a futuristic touchscreen cockpit. The aircraft has proven really successful in the market with orders for over 150 units so far globally and many of them from VIP and/or corporate purposes. The AW169 belongs to the same Family of helicopters that includes the AW139, both sharing the same design and certification as well as safety standards.

They also share several components, training and maintenance approach process too. This indirectly generates cost savings and fleet management efficiencies for operators using more than one type. As for improvements that impact discerning customers and passengers in the cabin, the AW169 also features newly designed dampeners inserted between the main rotor blades to reduce vibration, giving passengers a comfortable and quiet cabin environment. Additionally, power can be drawn from one engine while on the ground, without engagement of the rotors, to allow for air conditioning and/or heat for passengers without much fuss.

More excitingly, the development of the first commercial tiltrotor, the AW609, is still an ongoing affair and Leonardo Helicopters foresees a strong adoption among corporate and VIP operators. This is namely due to how the VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) AW609 brings a new meaning to point-to-point transportation advantages with its pressurized cabin able to fly above adverse weather. Similar to the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey of 2007, the AW609 is destined to carry this new-found direction for Leonardo Helicopters to re-explore and transform the world’s VIP rotorcraft missions market. Of course, what separates Leonardo Helicopters from the rest of the big names is the brand’s heritage, one that goes all the way back to a post WWII Europe; a tried and tested formula that has been with the world since 1948 and one that has been trusted by many, and will continue to perform well into the future.

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