Bristow Joins Agusta on Civil Tiltrotor Program

Heli-Expo 2015

AgustaWestland this morning showed off the AW609 prototype for the first time in a public venue — and in the process gave clarity to the future direction of the civil tiltrotor market with a paint scheme boasting Bristow and Eastern Airways colors.

Bristow Group, one of the world's largest offshore helicopter operators, has committed to the AW609 in a big way, with a "development agreement" that will help further define the aircraft, designed to take off like a helicopter and transition its rotor for fast forward flight.

At the Heli-Expo show in Orlando, Florida, today, Bristow said it has inked a deal with with UK low-cost airline Eastern Airways to use tiltrotors for commercial service, while Bristow plans to use the AW609 in a variety of roles including oil rig transport and air medical service.

"Today you see before the future of point-to-point transportation in hostile environments," said Jonathan Baliff, Bristow President and CEO, at the AgustaWestland exhibit in front of the AW609. With its partnership with Eastern Airways, he said, "Bristow is no longer just a helicopter company. We are a point-to-point logistics company."

Nearly 60 customers have placed orders for the AW609, which began life as a joint project between Agusta and Bell. Bell is no longer involved in the project, and the development timeline of the aircraft has stretched further and further as flight tests continue. Now, AgustaWestland plans to move flight test from Italy to the United States and says it will build the AW609 in Philadelphia.

To date two AW609 prototypes have logged 1,100 hours. It is projected to have a cruise speed of 260 knots, a ceiling of 25,000 feet and a range of 750 nm.

Bristow didn't disclose how many AW609 it plans to buy, but the number is expected to be significant given the company's new role in the program, which it says will include addressing regulatory issues of tiltrotors, operations, support and the aircraft's commercial introduction.

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