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With the celebration of its 1,000th delivery in September 2019, the AW139 re-affirmed its status as the most successful global helicopter program over the last 15 years. With orders covering more than 280 operators in over 70 countries to date, the AW139 not only saves lives every day, but it guarantees safety in every corner of the world.
The remarkable success of the AW139 can be attributed to its thoughtful design. Perfectly sized, it single-handedly captured new markets for Leonardo because of its exceptional performance and operational flexibility. For example, oil-and-gas, search-and-rescue (SAR) and firefighting operators preferred its rugged utility and exceptional power, while VIP customers appreciated its spacious cabin and smooth ride. As these markets quickly adopted the AW139 as the new standard for medium-twin helicopters, Leonardo’s success expanded in tandem with the AW139’s dominance.
When the AW139 came on the scene in 2004, it had many novel features going for it. One major selling point was the inclusion of a glass cockpit–few helicopters featured such modern flight decks at the time. It was also astonishingly powerful: helicopters normally climbed at 1,000-1,200 feet (305-366 meters)/minute, but the AW139 ascended at more than 2,000 feet/minute.
Leonardo was able to offer progressively heavier maximum takeoff weights because of the AW139’s robust transmission system. What also helped were the two 1,700-shaft-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C engines, the five-blade rotor, and a new main gearbox that could run dry for up to 30 minutes (this was later increased to 60 minutes).
Fifteen years ago, the AW139 launched Leonardo into the world of Tier 1 helicopter OEMs. However, that was just one of the notable high points in the aircraft’s illustrious history. Its first flight took place in Cascina Costa, Italy, in 2001. European JAA certification was received in 2003, with the first AW139 (then the AB139) delivered in early 2004 to Italian offshore and emergency medical service (EMS) operator Elilario. Certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration followed soon after in December 2004. In early 2005, the Irish Air Corps became the model’s first military customer when it signed a contract for four AW139s. Later that year, AgustaWestland acquired total control of the AB139 program, renaming it the AW139.
To meet growing global demand, Leonardo opened a second AW139 assembly line in 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (The first assembly line, in Vergiate, Italy, remains busy even today.) In 2010, the AW139 received certification for its full-ice protection system, which allows the helicopter to fly in known icing conditions, giving it unprecedented all-weather capability.
In 2012, Leonardo handed over the 500th AW139 to Weststar Aviation Services of Malaysia. This 500th delivery came just one year after the 400th. In September 2018, the United States Air Force selected the MH-139, which is based on the Leonardo AW139 but with Boeing as the prime contractor, to replace its fleet of UH-1N Hueys. One year later, the 1,000th AW139 was delivered to Italy’s Guardia di Finanza (a militarized police force dealing with smuggling and financial crimes).
By the end of 2019, Leonardo had sold more than 1,150 AW139s. Of those, 33 percent are used (or are destined) for offshore missions, 21 percent for military, 17 percent EMS/SAR, 13 percent government and law enforcement, 12 percent corporate VIP, and four percent utility. Europe has the highest concentration of AW139s (28 percent), while Asia-Australia is a close second (27 percent). The rest of the wide-ranging AW139 fleet is spread out over the Middle East (13 percent), North America (11 percent), global (11 percent), Africa (six percent), and Central and South America (four percent).
Thanks to its superior performance, proven technology and highest levels of productivity and safety, the AW139 is ideally suited to a large number of missions. The platform is capable of carrying up to 15 passengers at the fastest speed, in the most spacious and comfortable cabin, with the best power reserve of any helicopter in its class. As its many customers will attest–the AW139 simply has no rivals.