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The value of the rotorcraft business, interview with Daniele Romiti

On Air, Issue 13: New Start for Rotorcraft

The new AW169 is now EASA certified, the tiltrotor and unmanned rotorcraft are 2 innovative projects you are working on, in your opinion, how crucial is innovation for your company?

Innovation is key to the capability to stay competitive, to play a leading role and for future overall growth of a company as well as the aviation sector in general. What you mentioned are clear examples of the three different paths of rotary-wing product and technology development we’ve been walking through for years now. Leonardo’s been investing to develop new technologies, concepts, equipment, solutions and tools, demonstrated via existing test-beds or incubators and then installed into all new products while aiming at reducing time-to-market and deliver real benefits, truly enhanced capabilities and ever increasing levels of safety. More and new capabilities, more affordably and with greater safety is what the operators and the market are looking for.

You have a growing International presence in all continents, how do you see the evolution of the rotorcraft market?

Although the whole rotorcraft industry has experienced varying trends across geographies, segments and applications in recent years, it is clear to everybody that the need for vertical lift capabilities is strong and it represents a fundamental transport and utility asset to carry out missions or access confined areas impossible for or unreachable by other means. The value of the rotorcraft business and technology is such that many new comers from emerging markets and fast-developing nations are trying to access this sector and challenge the established presence of traditionally strong players. This opens new scenarios for both competition and cooperation but also new opportunities to perform a quantum leap forward in capabilities, both in terms of conventional helicopters and all new designs and concepts such as tiltrotors, compound and unmanned vehicles and all the relevant features and technologies. Furthermore, competitiveness more and more means an OEM can’t just merely offer a platform. It must develop and deliver total capability solutions combining a capable and safe product with comprehensive through-life-cycle support packages comprising advanced training and cost control. Staying at the forefront of breakthrough technology is therefore crucial to shape the future of the rotorcraft arena as leaders, not just as followers. And this is something relevant not just to the industry and companies but to nations and organizations such as the European Union, for example. 

How do you expect the regulatory framework to adapt to the new challenges coming up with the new products and new markets? Which areas would you see more regulatory support is needed?

We believe regulatory authorities should devote any possible effort to allow, reasonably and safely, the market, the aircraft operators and the service end-users to maximize the benefits given by any new capability enabler. We do expect also to get some benefits from latest certifications which are expanding safety threshold compared to old models. Rules and infrastructures need to evolve to align to the new platforms, performance and navigation/mission technologies if we want innovation to step from mere prototyping to real service and generate true benefits.

The Helicopter Division is co-leader of the ‘Green Rotorcraft Integrated Technology Demonstrator’ project, under “Clean Sky” initiative, what is this project about?

The Green Rotorcraft Integrated Technology Demonstrator, which adds to the Clean Sky 2 initiative where we’re focusing on the development of a Next Generation Tilt Rotor, aims at designing, testing and validating a range of rotorcraft technologies and systems allowing significant emission abatement in line with the ambitious and pioneering objectives of the well-known European initiative for the future of aviation. Leonardo is devoting efforts mainly in the fields of noise reduction and efficiency, in particular through active rotors, more electric technologies and low noise flight paths. The shape of rotor blades is a major influence on the overall rotorcraft performance, vibration and noise. Active rotors enables the geometry of the blade to change in flight, providing a larger design space for optimisation. The Active Gurney flap approach we’re focusing in the framework of the Green Rotorcraft project is to provide rotor performance enhancements (3-5%). Leonardo is then actively exploiting opportunities for increasingly more powerful, compact and lighter electrical systems including batteries, generators, motors with new technologies, and preparing for the future integration. For the Green Rotorcraft initiative we’re investigating electric tail rotor drive technologies which can deliver several benefits such as reducing the number of parts, improving mean-time between maintenance, permitting rpm variation for power saving in cruise and heading control, allowing excellent power surge and saving rotor inertia for autorotation. Furthermore, for overall noise abatement we’ve been studying and assessing flight path optimization to minimize noise and pollutant emissions and developing procedures, for example  through VFR/IFR flight tests with 30% reduced noise footprint and tiltrotor-air traffic system coupled simulation. It is worth mentioning that not only we’ve been progressing significantly this year in all of those fields, but also we’re already supplying to the market some of those capabilities such as in the case of the AW169 all-electric landing gear or our GrandNew and AW Family models capable of advanced navigation and combined with mission planning systems allowing minimized environmental impact and greater efficiency.  

EASA has established cooperation agreements with a number of international partners (FAA, TCCA, etc.). How do you (Leonardo) benefit from these agreements and in which directions do you expect them to evolve?                                                                                                                                        

Although various agreements already exist, we are in favour of improving and strengthening them. The rotary-wing sector will much benefit from these agreements if they will allow for a mutual, simultaneous recognition of type/kits certification and approvals as we’ve already seen happening in commercial airliners. There might be differences at operational level between some authorities, for example for the use of single-engine helicopters for commercial air transport operations. Nevertheless, keeping a channel of communication between authorities for an open discussion on how best to achieve safety objectives has to be welcomed. Industry can have a key role in this frame, bringing its “on-field experience” of the design, manufacturing and support to operators. Industry can also play an important role to contribute to rotorcraft development and entering into commercial service. We are now close to the introduction of the AW609 as the first tiltrotor with civil certification in the transport category. We believe it will revolutionize the way the market looks at vertical flight, as it will further extend its capabilities in most segments where helicopters are used today. We are actively working with the international civil aviation regulatory community to ensure the current aviation legislation is adapted to allow the capabilities of the tiltrotor concept to be fully exploited. From what we see, the response of the civil aviation community worldwide is very favourable to this approach. In line with this philosophy, within a working group made up by major international rotorcraft OEMs that have joined together on a voluntary basis, we are also contributing to reviewing Part 27/29 certification rules for helicopters and specifications to make certification processes more efficient and seamless, favor innovation, while preserving adequate level of safety, the first priority of all aviation stakeholders.

Born in Genoa, September 27th 1958, Daniele Romiti is a graduate of the Turin Polytechnic University where he doctorated in Aeronautical Engineering. From 1st January 2017, Mr. Romiti is Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters division as the name of the Company is now Leonardo ( previously Finmeccanica S.p.A). He is married and has three children.