News and Updates

Mark Thistlethwaite is the CEO of AgustaWestland Aviation Services, a joint-venture between AgustaWestland and Abu Dhabi Aviation. He spoke with The Prospect Group about business operations, future opportunities, and the helicopter market in the Middle East.

26 February 2014

AgustaWestland Aviation Services is a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Aviation (ADA) and AgustaWestland established to operate a Regional Service & Support Centre (Phase 1) and a repair, modification, and technical representative office (Phase 2). What is the latest update on both phases?

THISTLETHWAITE: When AugustaWestland Aviation Services was originally planned, it was planned in two phases. The first phase was to put in place a spares support and distribution centre, and the second phase was aircraft repair and overhaul. The spares distribution centre is up and running now. It was established in September 2013, and it’s to provide spares to our customers in the UAE and Oman, and the wider Middle East as dictated by AugustaWestland.

The second phase was to establish the repair and overhaul capability and AugustaWestland Aviation Services has been working with Aero Sekur who do the floats and rafts on the 139 and 109 helicopters, to put a capability to do the deep maintenance, the long term overhaul of those equipments into the UAE. We started that work in May this year, and it will be commissioned in January 2014 and available to our customers in February 2014. For the aircraft repair and overhaul, we are contracting to do that work but subcontracting the work to Abu Dhabi Aviation at the moment.

Are there any plans to further expand the scope of the JV to respond to changing market conditions? What could that expansion entail?

THISTLETHWAITE: One area that hasn’t been covered by the plans for the joint venture company, is the opportunity to put a training capability in place. It’s clear that as well as having a spares distribution centre and repair and overhaul capability for helicopters and aircraft components, there’s a big training opportunity. There’s a worldwide shortage of aircrew and technical staff. There’s a shortage in the UAE for those capabilities as well, and so we are working with ADA to see how we can work together to put a training capability in place as part of the joint venture. ADA has bought an AW139 simulator that they will have ready for training in 2014, and Augusta Westland is going to work with ADA to get that facility up and running and then there are other opportunities for Middle East to get involved in maintenance training.

Do you foresee a potential for establishing helicopter assembly facilities in Abu Dhabi in the future?

THISTLETHWAITE: An aircraft manufacturer will always be willing to set up a new assembly capability in a different part of the world if the sales volumes justify that set up. So provided Augusta Westland wins the right number of contracts in the Middle East, then clearly there’s an opportunity to set up an assembly plant for a particular model of helicopter. As you’d expect, AugustaWestland is involved in several campaigns at the moment in the Middle East. We will have to wait and see what the outcome of those campaigns is to determine whether an assembly line will actually be set up in the Middle East.

How would you describe the infrastructure available in Abu Dhabi for helicopters? How does this infrastructure compare to other countries in the region?

THISTLETHWAITE: Abu Dhabi has very good localized helicopter support and operating capabilities and they’re primarily at the main airports. What Abu Dhabi is lacking for example, is heliports around Abu Dhabi which have got small maintenance and operating capabilities, particularly in the city, so that people can fly in and out from point to point, as opposed to having to fly to an airport and getting in a car or a taxi and suffering the traffic delays. So clearly it would be good to see that infrastructure growing over the coming years and would aid business people particularly to get to their meetings easily, quickly, and have a more effective use of their time.

There’s clearly a thriving market for helicopters in the Middle East, as we can see today…Governments continue to buy helicopters for their military and paramilitary purposes, and in the commercial markets the VIP, Emergency Medical Services, and the oil and gas sectors, are all expanding going forward, and we don’t see that changing.

How would you describe the current market for helicopters in the Middle East? How important is this market for AgustaWestland?

THISTLETHWAITE: There’s clearly a thriving market for helicopters in the Middle East, as we can see today. AugustaWestland has 150 helicopters in the region already and that market is going to continue to grow. Governments continue to buy helicopters for their military and paramilitary purposes, and in the commercial markets the VIP, Emergency Medical Services, and the oil and gas sectors, are all expanding going forward, and we don’t see that changing.

So AugustaWestland is very well placed in those markets already with the 139 helicopter, which is a 6 tonne helicopter, and is very, very prevalent in oil and gas industry. We have to deliver in 2014, our first 189 helicopter, which is an 8 tonne helicopter, so slightly bigger; and in 2015 we will be delivering our first 169 helicopter which is a smaller, 4 tonne helicopter. Both those helicopters meet different requirements for the oil and gas industry, VIP markets, and the EMS, the Emergency Medical Services markets. So the opportunity for AugustaWestland to sell helicopters is significant.

The expectation is that we’ll probably sell another 50 helicopters in this region in the next five years, and that’s hopefully a conservative estimate.

The 169 and the 189 helicopters are of the same family DNA as the 139, but they have very different capabilities. So with those three helicopters, we in AugustaWestland can cover the market and give to the Middle East customers what they want.

As far as support goes, clearly with all those helicopters in the region, it’s imperative that our customers feel they’re getting better support and if indeed better support, closer support. So that’s one of the reasons why AugustaWestland Aviation Services has been set up; to improve the customer support for our customers in the region. We are bringing the support to the customers as opposed to our customers having to go back to Europe and America to get their support.