Boeing-Leonardo collaboration for the replacement of the USAF 'Huey' fleet. Agreement with a future?

(To Matteo Acciaccarelli)

Waiting for the USAF to decide who among the MH-139, the HH-60U Black Hawk and the UH-1Y Venom he will be the successor of the UH-1N Twin Huey, we interviewed Antonio De Palmas, president of Boeing Italia. The leading multinational in the US aerospace sector, in fact, has long decided to participate in this race together with Leonardo with the MH-139, military derivative of the AW-139.

However, between Boeing and Italy, the MH-139 is not the only point in common and with De Palmas we talked about the future of "our" CH-47F and the relationship between Boeing and Italy, as well as the Boeing's expectations for the future and the company's role in the world of military aviation.

Can the agreement between Boeing and Leonardo for the MH-139 be considered further evidence of the great confidence of the US industry against the Italian one?

Surely the choice to participate in this race with Leonardo is also related to the fact that we (Boeing, ed) we do not have a solution with those capabilities. We are always open to evaluate partnerships with those with competitive products, to which we can link. This was the case of the 139 which, despite being a new platform created for the commercial, is already in use by armed forces and police forces in some countries.

It will compare with the Black Hawk that was born for the military world. How difficult will it be to win this race?

We believe that the competitive advantage we have is given by the fact that this is a program that provides the best value to the customer, that is, it perfectly fulfills the required tasks but, at the same time, due to the commercial derivation of the platform, will have an operating cost and of lower acquisition than competitors. We have estimated that the savings will be approximately $ XNUMX billion over the entire program cycle. If the race goes well, in addition to this, new paths and opportunities could be opened.

If the 139 were to win the race how will it work? Will Boeing build directly in the United States or will it be built in Italy and then be exported?

We will be the prime contractor, or the interface with the customer to guarantee the requirement and we will deal with the logistic support. Production, on the other hand, is 100% Leonardo in the Philadelphia line. So it will be produced by Leonardo in the United States, Boeing will not enter the production phase. We enter the contract only to make changes to some parts of the car in order to meet the requirements of the USAF.

Will the modifications made to comply with the USAF requirements remain only in America or will Leonardo also sell them to other Armed Forces?

The agreement we have with Leonardo only concerns the race in the United States, for the rest then we will see later.

The contract will therefore be different from the one signed by Italy for the production and sale under license of CH-47?

We are in a totally different situation, because this is much lighter. There was not even the necessity because Leonardo produces the MH-139 already in the United States, so from this point of view the car is already "American".

How are the relations between Boeing and the Italian aerospace industry?

The relationship is good and in addition to Leonardo, with whom there is a consolidated bond, there are many other Italian industries with which we collaborate as, for example, Avio engaged on the engines of the 787 and the new 777X. This is, of course, a responsibility of General Electric, but it does some of the work here in Italy with Avio. Then there are other direct suppliers, because Boeing is constantly looking towards new realities where essentially looking at two variables: the ability to develop a product and costs. There are huge opportunities in Italy.

Customs duties on steel and aluminum that would like to introduce Trump how much could affect production costs and finished products?

On what we do now in Italy there have been no impacts and we do not foresee. Of course there is all the more general talk of customs duties, beyond Trump, and we watch it very carefully because Boeing is a global company, manufactures and sells all over the world.

Will the US Army's CH-47F updates arrive at Army Aviation?

The AVES version is the latest version of the F and is very up-to-date in the electrical system, in the fuselage and in the avionics. Currently there are incremental improvements on the F but the line and the version are those and for the moment there is no new version. Now we hope to close an agreement with Spain to modernize their fleet of CH-47D to version F, in a configuration very similar to that of the Italian Army.

What would then be the version that could also be introduced in Germany ...

Absolutely yes. Then Germany may choose some different specifications from the other Armed Forces, but these are accessories because the base is that.

Should CH-47 be chosen in Germany, will it be produced in the USA or will it be produced under license?

It is still too early to tell. There are 60 machines required by Germany and it is an important production. The role and capabilities of the German industry are being evaluated, but I exclude that it will be produced by Italy with an Agusta license because there are also reasons of national industrial policy. Certainly there will be an involvement of the German industry, but not necessarily on the production of the car. In some respects it is the same thing we are doing here in Italy for the "Extended Range" of the Chinooks for the special forces which reflects a lot the model we have with Leonardo for the MH-139. The 4 machines are produced in Philadelphia, but Leonardo has the role of prime contractor.

Is it not possible to extend the type of contract signed for the KC-767A Tanker to other vehicles in Italy?

For the "Extended Range" we are proposing a form of contract of this type. They are different aircraft but the philosophy is the same: you tell me how much availability you want and I equip myself to guarantee it and then I quote it as a cost. They are long-term contracts because otherwise it is difficult to re-enter the investments made, as in the case of Pratica di Mare where investments were made in hangars, warehouses and the surrounding area, but over time the costs decrease and stabilize reflecting the advantages both for the customer. than for the industry. The PBL (Performance-Based Logistics, ed v.articolo) we do it already in England and in the Netherlands for the CH-47. In the UK we have the 75% of machine availability. An important and very good value, given the maintenance complexity of the Chinook.

How does the PBL work in operating theaters? Does Boeing follow the customer abroad with its own team?

The customer decides, but usually there is a team of technicians. Also because if you want to provide this service even on a mission, you need to replicate the same model that you have at "home".

Income from the military sector has increased in the last year's budget. How difficult is it to make Boeing known outside the civilized world?

We present ourselves as an aerospace industry, a characteristic model that has always differentiated it from others. In recent years the relationship has changed a bit, because years ago it was almost 50 and 50 years ago. For some years the civilian part has predominated having grown a lot thanks to the increase in the production of commercial aircraft: we deliver 20-25% more commercial aircraft than 4-5 years ago. A very important increase. The military one, on the other hand, has remained more or less stable over the years. But the characteristic, which interests us closely, is that the part of the turnover made outside the United States has shifted significantly, reaching 30%. The model is to always guarantee synergies between the military world and the civil world that has always worked. Among our competitors, neither has both industrial branches so developed, Airbus is competitive in the commercial aviation part, it is not competitive in the military one. Identical with Lockheed Martin which is related to military production and therefore has a higher defense turnover than Boeing, but has nothing on a commercial level. We are a bit of a unicuum in this. Obviously, the prevalence of the commercial part is "natural" in the perception of the brand, because the military aspect is a bit of a niche.

(photo: Boeing / Aeronautica Militare)