Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whatver Happened To The Civil Tiltrotor?

Whatver Happened To The Civil Tiltrotor?: "

From 1993 to 2001, I wrote about the commuter/regional aviation industry. It was an exciting time, with new and variant turboprop and jet products proposed and also introduced to the market.

During that time, I was invited to many events to hear executives pitch their potential aircraft and how it would change air travel. One of those pitches, back in 1997, was for what was then the Bell-Boeing 609 Civil Tiltrotor, the commercial version of the V-22 Osprey.

blog post photo

An artist's rendering of the 609 Tiltrotor, courtesy of Bell/Agusta

And what a pitch! This aircraft, with its helicopter and turboprop capabilities, was going to be used, among other things, to help relieve traffic at crowded airports, allow air taxi services to flourish and provide scheduled services in markets that may not be able to support service with traditional aircraft.

And at that year's Paris Air Show (which I attended), the Bell-Boeing team announced sales of 29 tiltrotors to 21 customers, including Canadian Helicopter Corporation, Evergreen Helicopters and Petroleum Helicopters Inc. he partners had announced that the first four aircraft prototypes will take place in 1998, with first flight in 1999 and FAA certification and first customer delivery in 2001.

Boeing pulled out of the partnership a year later, and Bell took on AgustaWestland as a partner for the 609 instead. That 2001 deadline came and went. Instead, the first flight was in March 2003, and two aircraft are in test flying.

We speed up to this month, where at Heli-Expo, it was announced that AgustaWestland would buy Bell's share of the 609 program, as was reported in The Weekly of Business Aviation (subscribers only).

AgustaWestland’s frustration over Bell dragging its feet on the program prompted CEO Giuseppe Orsi to set a deadline of June 30 to determine the program’s fate. A sale agreement was reached, but negotiations have been stymied by difficulties in transferring assets from Bell to AgustaWestland.

“Bell has agreed to sell; we have agreed to buy. We hope the deal can be concluded within the next couple of months," said Orsi. So it will be interesting to see, once the sale is finalized, two things: if AgustaWestland can bring the 609 to market within the next two years; and if there is a market on the commercial aviation side of the business. Time will tell...


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