Italy's AgustaWestland is offering a variant of its AW109 to serve as a US Navy training helicopter. (AgustaWestland)
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WASHINGTON — Helicopter maker AgustaWestland is touting the capabilities of its American-built AW119Kx as a candidate to replace the US Navy’s current fleet of training choppers.
The helicopter, which is used commercially by police departments and medical evacuation services, could meet the Navy or other service training needs more cheaply than existing military helicopters, company officials said.
“There’s no real active [government] solicitations out right now, so we’re trying to incubate something, whether it’s with the Navy, the Coast Guard, [Customs and Border Protection], the Air Force [or] Army,” Robert LaBelle, CEO of AgustaWestland North America, said Monday during a briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space convention.
The single-engine aircraft, which is a derivative of the twin-engine AW109, features a modern design, redundant systems and is “forgiving to a new student,” LaBelle said. The high-end civilian model costs about $3.5 million, a price that would likely decrease with a bulk buy.
The AW119Kx, called the Koala, is built solely at AgustaWestland’s Philadelphia production facility. AgustaWestland North America is a subsidiary of Italian-based AgustaWestland, which is part of Italy’s Finmeccanica aerospace and defense group.
The AW119Kx would not need any modifications to enter military service, LaBelle said.
The Navy operates just more than 100 Bell 206 Jet Rangers, which are used for helicopter training. The service is in the study phase to determine its future helicopter training needs.
“It really is time for them to replace them,” LaBelle said, of the current Navy helicopter trainers, which the service calls TH-57 Sea Rangers.
The US Army flies the twin-engine Airbus UH-72 Lakota for stateside missions and plans to buy 100 new aircraft for helicopter training. The Lakota would likely be a competitor when the Navy replaces its training helicopters.
The US military does not operate any AgustaWestland helicopters, however, Customs and Border Protection operates two AW139s. LaBelle said he has been working to shed light on AgustaWestland’s US presence and portfolio of helicopters.
As US defense spending contracts in the coming years, LaBelle said the Defense Department should look at different types of platforms and industrial partners.
He touted the company’s $600 million yearly investment in research-and-development projects, and its growing commercial sales.■