The Indian President and Prime Minister will no longer have to fly in the tight quarters of Russian Mi-17 helicopters.
AgustaWestland, part of Italy's Finmeccanica group, will begin deliveries of its AW101 VIP helicopters --- similar to Marine One which flies the US president --- in 2012. AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini told HT at the Paris air show, currently underway at Le Bourget, that six of the 12 helicopters ordered by India would be delivered next year.
AgustaWestland had signed a $835 million (Rs 3,760 crore) contract with India last year to supply 12 AW101 helicopters to the Indian air Force. The contract covers five-year product support and crew and technician training.
The three engines powering the AW101 add to flight safety. The helicopters are being built at Westland's Yeovil factory in the UK. Spagnolini said the AW101 programme was on schedule and deliveries would be completed by 2013.
The medium-lift AW101, developed for both civil and military applications, has a range of over 1300 km with a top speed of 280 kmph. The helicopters will come equipped with radar-warning receivers, laser detectors and flare dispensers to deflect missiles. Cabin features include airline-style seating, soundproofing panels and overhead baggage lockers.
The military versions of the helicopter are in service with the UK's Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the Italian Navy. The AW101 has different configurations to carry out diverse roles such as troop transport, casualty evacuation, search and rescue, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, disaster relief and airborne surveillance.
AgustaWestland beat off competition from its US rival Sikorsky to bag the Indian contract.
The IAF's communication squadron, which carries out VIP duties, consists of Boeing 737s, Brazilian Embraer executive planes, Boeing business jets and modified Russian helicopters.
(The writer is in Paris at the invitation of Finmeccanica)