Executive is talking deadline

Jun. 24--PARIS -- The chief executive of Bell Helicopter's Italian partner, AgustaWestland, has publicly set a firm deadline of sorts for the two companies to deliver their much touted, often-delayed, civil tilt-rotor aircraft.

Giuseppe Orsi, impatient with the time it is taking the two companies to deliver what he says will be the most significant breakthrough in civil aviation, now says that by the time of the 2011 Paris Air Show, customers will fly to it in their own BA609s.

Orsi spoke last week when asked by reporters about his frequently expressed frustration with Bell and the pace of BA609 development.

The aircraft, which will seat six to nine passengers and incorporate the tilt-rotor technology developed by Bell for the V-22 Osprey, was launched a decade ago to considerable fanfare with promises that it would be ready within five years.

Over the last two years, Orsi has said on several occasions that the development effort could move faster. The Italian executive is convinced that a market exists in Europe, with its relatively short travel distances, for the versatile aircraft.

Anyone who saw the aircraft fly at the air show this week, Orsi said, "I think will concur with me that this is a great machine, the future of our industry."

One reporter for an aviation trade magazine questioned Orsi pointedly, saying, "It seems like every year the schedule slips another year."

Orsi responded that it was a complex program and that each flight was being carefully monitored and analyzed. The aircraft flying at the air show last week, a test aircraft brought from Italy, was instrumented, and data from each demonstration flight were being recorded and sent to Italy and Fort Worth for analysis by engineers.

"The program is linked to the availability of funds of the two companies," Orsi said.

Bell and Agusta have about a 75-25 financial split in the BA609 program through their Bell Agusta Aerospace Corp. venture.

Orsi was asked about comments he made to the Star-Telegram in March at the Heli-Expo trade show in Orlando, Fla., offering to buy a larger share of the program. At the time, he said he had proposed to Bell that AgustaWestland take a larger role to speed development.

Asked whether the two companies had revised their work and financial sharing, Orsi said, "Why don't you ask Bell?"

"Money is something we should discuss between good partners," he said.

Bell spokesman Mike Cox said Friday that there has been no change in the teaming arrangement but that the Fort Worth-based company is always re-evaluating its relationships with other companies.

Bell, according to sources, has in recent years allocated about $25 mil- lion a year to the program, a small sum but one that comes on top of a much larger investment in the program's early years.

With the boom in orders for new military and civilian helicopters, Bell is already hard-pressed to meet demand. Chief Executive Dick Millman said in an interview that he has presented plans to parent company Textron to boost production of helicopters and spare parts, plans that will require significant new levels of investment.

AgustaWestland is conducting flight tests on one aircraft in Italy, and Bell is testing another BA609 out of its XworkX facility at Arlington Municipal Airport.

The two companies now say they expect to complete development and obtain safety certification and approval to deliver aircraft by the end of 2010 or very early in 2011.

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rcox@star-telegram.com

Bob Cox, 817-390-7723

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