LONDON — AgustaWestland’s U.K. arm expects to start assembling a new helicopter next year following the government’s award Tuesday of a 1.6-billion-pound search-and-rescue deal to Bristow Helicopters.
U.S.-owned Bristow said it will acquire 11 AgustaWestland AW189s to operate alongside an equal number of the longer range Sikorsky S-92 to provide a privatized search-and-rescue service here for 10 years starting in 2015.
Including training and support, the deal is worth more than 235 million pounds to the British arm of AgustaWestland.
Bristow’s contract with the Department for Transport will bring to an end a government search-and-rescue service that has largely been provided by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Sea King helicopters. The military machines will be phased out of service by 2016.
Creation of the AW189 assembly line at the company’s Yeovil factory marks a critical step in the Italian-owned operation’s strategy to diversify its defense-dominated business here to include commercial helicopter work.
AgustaWestland is aiming to reduce its dependence on U.K. Ministry of Defence business, which is in decline as military budgets continue to be cut.
The Italian company has earmarked all search-and-rescue orders for the AW189 to be assembled in the U.K. Yeovil already produces the rotor blades and transmission parts for other variants of the 8-ton machine, which is built elsewhere by AgustaWestland, and it is also undertaking other commercial work.
Graham Cole, chairman at AgustaWestland in the U.K., told reporters last month that conservative estimates put the market sector at more than 200 machines with a value of more than 2 billion pounds over the next 10 years.
Bristow beat Bond Aviation to the SAR deal. Bond was also ha proposed to use the AW189 as part of its fleet mix had it secured the contract.
The boost for the Yeovil factory comes just weeks after the Indian government suspended an order for 12 AW101 VIP helicopters following allegations of corruption involving the Italian arm of AgustaWestland.
All AW101s are built in Yeovil. Three machines have been delivered, a further three are complete, and work is continuing on the remainder of an order scheduled to be finished by the end of the year.
The AW189 was launched in 2011 and has secured more than 70 orders and options in various applications. Certification is expected in the second half of this year, with SAR qualification scheduled for 2014.