PARIS --- Italy’s Leonardo may have finally found a launch customer for its AW149 military helicopter by landing an order from the Egyptian Navy, according to unconfirmed press reports.
This would be especially significant as it would allow the company to expand its military product range with a heavier variant of its successful AW139 design, but built to military specifications and capable of higher payloads, longer ranges and a much heavier weapons fit.
The initial contract, which has not been officially announced, was first revealed by the Paris news website La Tribune, and FlightGlobal subsequently reported that it covers about 20 helicopters. Leonardo did not respond to several requests for comment.
Egypt last week officially notified France, which was hoping to sell more complex and costly NH Industries NH90s, that it had chosen to award the contract to Leonardo, ending what looked like a procurement honeymoon during which Egypt bought 24 Rafale fighters, two Mistral-class LHDs and four Gowind-class corvettes from France since 2014.
Unveiled in 2006, the AW149 successively competed in official tenders in Turkey and Poland, and successively marketed elsewhere, but had so far not found a launch customer, as it is undercut by the less costly AW139 stablemate and, on the heavier side, by the Airbus H215M and the NH90 sold by NH Industries, of which Leonardo is a major stockholder.
The Italian Air Force had also stated it would buy some AW149s, but subsequently bought militarized AW139s for Search And Rescue and AW101s for Combat SAR missions, obviating for the time being the need for new AW149s.
However, the number of AW149s helicopters ordered by Egypt will probably increase, as it originally planned to buy about 30 NH90s for the same mix of amphibious assault, utility and SAR missions.