September 8, 2009

Me & My Aircraft: Bel Air puts faith in the AW139 after 'meticulous' research
The AgustaWestland AW139 is now flying in 15 countries around Europe and the Middle East, including Atlantic Airways in the Faroe Islands and Vektra Aviation in Montenegro.

The AgustaWestland AW139 is now flying in 15 countries around Europe and the Middle East, including Atlantic Airways in the Faroe Islands and Vektra Aviation in Montenegro. The largest populations are gathered around the North Sea and engaged in oil and gas industry support, and the largest fleets are in the hands of Abu Dhabi Aviation and Schreiner Airways in the Netherlands.

Bel Air of Denmark, which has chosen the AW139 medium twin to spearhead its expansion into the offshore market, says it is happy with the maintenance support, availability of spare parts and manufacturer back-up.

Capt Susanne H Lastein, md, says: "The Bel Air team decided to buy the AW139 after an extremely meticulous comparison between all offshore helicopters in the medium weight class. "We took delivery of our first AW139 in late June and since then we have had a few instances where the maintenance support have done a great and very fast job.

"We have confidence in the Agusta spare part support and believe it will work out fine in close cooperation with Bel Air. The manufacture back-up we have experienced is second to none."

The AW139's excellent payload and performance, she says, ensures high productivity for offshore operations. Capable of carrying up to 15 passengers, the AW139 can be used for a number of applications other than offshore transport including EMS/SAR, executive and vip transport, law enforcement and government roles. But Lastein says the Bel Air aircraft will be used in a 12-seat configuration for offshore services.

Lastein says Bel Air likes the payload, performance, multi-role capability and flexibility.

Bel Air, established in 1994, also provides a range of services including aerial works, photography and film, sightseeing and leisure, survey and surveillance and training. It says the AW139 is one of the fastest helicopters in its class with a maximum cruise speed of 167 knots.

Another operator, commenting anonymously, says: "Agusta has delivered the helicopter that the oil companies, at least the safety auditors, claimed they wanted. Now it is up to the oil companies to back their words with contracts - which a number of them have failed to do."

But he is satisfied with the AW139's maintenance support. "Agusta has fully supported the solving of early problems with tail booms and that phase appears behind the model now. The dispatch reliability is steadily improving as Agusta and the operators gain experience with the model."

The operator is very satisfied with the operating capability. "What a performer! I am very satisfied with the value, safety features, capabilities, and speed. The best aspect is the third generation technology, safety, speed, comfort. The worst thing is the expected 'teething' problems as the fleet enters the market." Most desirable upgrade, he says, is a 6,800 kilo option.

Milan Kuc of Vektra Aviation says he is satisfied with the maintenance support and value but very unhappy with the dispatch reliability and operating capability.

Passing tests

The Ente Nazionale Aviazione Civile (ENAC), the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, says that the AW139 is proving a good test helicopter for the evaluation of a low altitude IFR route between Turin and Venice in Italy, crossing the Pianura Padana (Po Valley).

Trials were performed using an AW139 specifically equipped to monitor and process the data generated by ground and satellite based navigation systems. "In particular, the reliability of navigation data and the navigation capabilities of the AW139 were evaluated during the tests, while taking into account the expected evolution of satellite navigation systems," ENAC says. "Our units constantly tracked the aircraft while evaluating the radar coverage along the route and the navigational accuracy of the AW139 flying the 210 nm route."

The evaluation is part of a number of initiatives to develop a dedicated network of low level IFR routes optimised for helicopter operations. "These routes will be integrated into the airspace system and will utilise flight levels where icing conditions are not normally experienced and below where a pressurised cabin or oxygen would be required," Giuseppe Orsi, AgustaWestland ceo explains. "If there are adverse weather conditions procedures will be developed for helicopters to abandon the use of dedicated IFR airspace, and utilise the airspace used also by fixed-winged aircraft."

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