WASHINGTON — A consortium led by American helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland North America hopes to offer the US Navy a new approach to training helicopter pilots.
Under the proposal, AgustaWestland, along with Bristow Group, Doss Aviation and Rockwell Collins, would provide a fleet of AW119 training helicopters, as well as classroom and simulated learning experiences. The group would own and maintain the aircraft, saving the government the cost of procuring and maintaining a new fleet of trainer aircraft, said Robert LaBelle, AgustaWestland North America's CEO.
"We recognized that the Navy has a need to [update] the training system they have," LaBelle said.
The group unveiled the proposal at this week's annual Navy League Sea-Air-Space exposition.
AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica subsidiary, would provide the helicopters, which are made and assembled in its Philadelphia facility, LaBelle said. Bristow, which has experience managing a commercial fleet, would provide maintenance and upkeep, while Rockwell would handle simulators and Doss the flight training, similar to the service it provides to the US Air Force's introductory candidates.
"They have experience with this model, and would provide ground and simulation instruction," LaBelle said.
The AW119 is a single-engine aircraft, which is one of the Navy's criteria. It is big enough to allow two student pilots to sit up front with an instructor immediately behind them, allowing it to stay aloft for as long as five hours, without having to land to switch seats, LaBelle said.
Under the proposal, the Navy would continue to provide military instructors for in-flight training, as they do now, an AgustaWestland spokesman said.
Lt. Brynn Olson, spokeswoman for the chief of Naval Air Training Command, (CNATRA), said no decision had been made regarding the future of rotary training aircraft and simulators.
"We are looking at separately both upgrading aircraft and simulators," she said. Possibilities include buying new aircraft, a service contract with an outside vendor, or a turnkey approach like the one proposed by AgustaWestland and its partners.
"All of those things are still on the table," she said. "Discussions are ongoing."
The consortium hopes to land a 10-year contract that could be worth around $100 million a year, which is consistent with what the Navy spends now, LaBelle said.