AgustaWestland Officials Pursue Sales to U.S. Military

By Valerie Insinna
Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland has long been a commercial juggernaut, but it has not been as successful in attracting sales to the U.S. federal government. Robert LaBelle, the new CEO of its North American branch, has made it his goal to change that, he told National Defense.

The U.S. military does not fly any AgustaWestland rotorcraft and, in a tight budget environment, has sought to focus on recapitalizing its helicopters rather than procuring new ones. However, the services could be persuaded to buy new aircraft if the company can provide cost savings, he said.

“One of the things that I’ve been focused on is developing good cost analyses and business cases to go to the agencies [and] the services,” he said. “With more modern capabilities and aircraft, they can possibly recapitalize inside their current operating budget … because they spend so much on support costs.”

In some cases, the military can afford to acquire and operate new aircraft at the same cost of flying and maintaining legacy fleets, LaBelle contends. He also is putting forward alternatives to the traditional procurement process, such as leasing aircraft and lease-to-purchase agreements.

“If this is a challenging time, then that calls for doing things differently,” he said. “I think it also calls for doing things with different partners than you have traditionally, because then those new partners can bring in … new products and new ideas.”

Although few new U.S. military helicopter requirements are on the books, LaBelle said the company has identified a couple of possible sales opportunities. 

The Navy in 2013 issued a request for information on alternatives for its training helicopter, the TH-57B/C Sea Ranger manufactured by Bell Helicopter. AgustaWestland is pitching its AW119Kx as a possible replacement and is currently supplying the Navy with market data, LaBelle said.

The company plans to propose its AW139 medium lift helicopter for the Air Force’s common vertical lift support platform, which will replace the UH-1N fleet, he said. The service could procure up to 93 aircraft, but the requirement is currently unfunded. 

“We’re looking at ways we can somehow stimulate some kind of test program, pilot program, try out something to see if a newer fleet can dramatically lower operating costs there,” he said.

In the past, the company has had better luck marketing to homeland security and public safety agencies. Customs and Border Protection has purchased two AW-139 aircraft, and police and fire departments throughout the country have also bought AgustaWestland helicopters.

If Congress can approve a comprehensive immigration reform policy, there may be more funding for helicopters to be used by federal agencies that enforce those laws, LaBelle said. “Within that legislation, we hope to see some funding for CBP and other agencies to bolster their fleets.”

Topics: Aviation, Rotary Wing, Business Trends, Doing Business with the Government, Defense Department, DOD Budget

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