On 20 February, Leonardo announced that Pakistan has ordered another batch of AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters for “utility and transport operations.” Deliveries will begin in mid-2017.
Although Leonardo did not close the number of helicopters ordered, it states that Pakistan selected the AW139 as “the preferred new generation helicopter” to supplant legacy platforms.
In May 2016, Pakistan ordered an undisclosed number of AW139s for search and rescue (SAR) operations. In August 2016, it added another batch for emergency medical services (EMS) and transport duties.
The AW139 can ferry 12 seated passengers. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada (PW&C) PT6C-67C turboshaft engines, the AW139 has a maximum range of 1,250 km, service ceiling of 6096 metres, rate-of-climb of 10.9 m/s, and a maximum speed of 306 km/h.
As per Leonardo, more than 960 AW139s are in use in 70 countries with 240 government, armed forces, commercial and private sector operators.
Notes & Comments:
Prior to these recent orders, the Pakistani government was operating five AW139s for relief and transport duties. Besides expanding the government AW139 fleet, it appears that AW139s are also being sought for the armed forces. It is not known if the armed forces are procuring the defence-focused AW139M.
Leonardo’s statements about the AW139 being “the preferred new generation helicopter” may indicate that Pakistan is planning to procure a relatively large number of AW139s. Pakistan Aeronautical Complex’s (PAC) plans to activate a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility for the PW&C PT6 turboshaft, which powers the AW139 (and Bell Helicopters 412EP), is indicative of this plan.
Before selecting the AW139, Pakistan examined the helicopter’s hot-and-high performance. In its Summer 2016 AW Newsletter, Leonardo states the AW139’s flight tests in Pakistan “included take-offs and landings on unprepared surfaces at 16,300 feet (4968 m) density altitude and flights at 20,000 feet (6096 m).” Considering the general focus on SAR, EMS and high-altitude operations, it appears that the AW139 is being sought to gradually supplant legacy Aérospatiale SA316 Alouette III and SA315B Lama helicopters.
The Pakistan Army’s SA330 Puma and Mil-17 and Mi-171s are in a heavier weight and capacity class than the AW139; newer Mi-171s, Airbus H225M Caracal (or H215 Super Puma) and Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk helicopters are more analogous successors.
The Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T-129 ATAK, a variant of the Leonardo AW129 Mangusta (now manufactured in Turkey by TAI), is also competing for an attack helicopter requirement in Pakistan.