The North American arm of AgustaWestland uncovered plans Tuesday to produce the AW169 at its sprawling U.S. manufacturing complex at Northeast Philadelphia Airport (PNE), becoming a second location to the OEM’s plant in Vergiate, Italy. (The company also lists its facility in Yeovil, UK as “playing a major role” in the AW169 program). The announcement was part of a facility tour led by AgustaWestland Philadelphia CEO William Hunt and AgustaWestland North America Chairman and CEO R. Scott Rettig. Also on hand were various plant managers and representatives from Maryland State Police, an AW139 operator. The event featured a demo flight aboard a Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67C powered AW139 in the paint scheme of Helicopters New Zealand (HNZ).
AgustaWestland currently has more than 80 orders for the AW169, representing 38 operators in 16 countries. “The team was made aware Monday night at an all-hands meeting to a round of applause,” Hunt said of the AW169 expansion. “We’re really excited about this because part of our journey is not just growing in revenue and growing in people, but expanding our ability to do what the parent site needs us to do to support the overall AgustaWestland plan.”
Front of the AW139 assembly line. Photos by Andrew Parker
The current timetable calls for the AW169 to join the Philadelphia production line in May 2014, with first deliveries in early 2015. “Today the master schedule has us producing up to 20 units annually by 2017, so in three years we will go from zero to 20, which doesn’t sound that fast, but it is in the production world,” noted Hunt. Philadelphia currently produces the AW139 and AW119, including the new AW119Kx, which is being developed with launch customer Life Flight Network and features Garmin G1000H avionics. FAA certification for the Kx variant is expected in May.
AgustaWestland Philadelphia CEO William Hunt with an in-production AW139.
Hunt pointed out that AgustaWestland Philadelphia has experienced 72 percent growth in revenue over the past seven years, from $217 million in fiscal year 2005 to $771 million in FY12. The number of employees has risen from 170 in June 2006 to around 560 people currently, “and in terms of aircraft deliveries we’ve increased our production rates by 42 percent.” AgustaWestland has invested more than $110 million in the United States in the past six years, Hunt added.
Aerial view of AgustaWestland's 275,000-square-foot facility at PNE.
During a tour of the production floor, Hunt mentioned that Philadelphia recently created a second line related to the increase in the production rate of the AW139. He described some of the workflow related to managing a production line, saying that AgustaWestland uses a “pulsing line.” Every eight days, he continued, “we move the line, the aircraft pulses from stage to stage. Each of those stages has different work content, so as I said the first one is avionics and the second may be mechanical systems. Imagine that in those stages, depending on the configuration, the work value is going up and down, yet the aircraft move every eight days no matter what. If the work content on this is 50 percent more than [a subsequent stage], it still flows down the line in the same number of cycle days as an easier configuration. So the job is constantly flowing the work crews into each of those areas, by skill, and the main three skill categories are avionics, mechanical and structural. We work two main shifts, and we have a partial third shift.”
AgustaWestland North America CEO R. Scott Rettig with the homeland security variant AW139M.
Hunt said that it currently takes “95 days from the time that the aircraft is delivered into the assembly world to the time we deliver it to the customer.” David Holmes, vice president of operations, added “with a goal of 90 days.”
Hunt concluded that “we are confident that inducting the AW169 line here will just be a continuation of our ability to improve on the product,” using the processes and experience learned from building the AW139 and AW119.