The United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Anglo-Italian helicopter firm AgustaWestland to buy three AW609 tilt-rotor aircraft for search and rescue operations.
AgustaWestland, a wholly owned subsidiary of Italy’s Finmeccanica, said it expected delivery of the first three aircraft to start in 2019, with UAE’s Joint Aviation Command also taking options for three more aircraft.
“The negotiations are still going on but the (final) deal is almost closed,” said Major General Abdullah al-Hashimi, the ministry’s executive director of strategic analysis, before signing the MOU.
The AgustaWestland AW609, formerly the Bell/Agusta BA609, is a twin-engined tilt-rotor aircraft that can take off, land and hover like a helicopter, but flies like a fixed-wing aircraft, giving it greater speed and range than conventional helicopters.
“The capability of the aircraft gives us flexibility between rotor and fixed-wing, that’s why we are really going for this aircraft,” Hashemi said.
“It’s not for any other reason, like Yemen or anything else,” he added, after being asked whether the aircraft would be deployed to support the UAE’s military operations assisting Yemeni government forces fighting Iran-allied rebels.
The order will be the UAE’s second purchase this year from AgustaWestland, after buying nine AW139 helicopters in February, six of which were designated for search and rescue operations.
The news did not derail separate talks under way with Boeing Co and Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc, for the purchase of six to 12 V-22 Ospreys, the larger and more powerful tilt-rotor aircraft used by the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force, according to sources familiar with the matter.
UAE’s military remained interested in the V-22 for transporting troops and cargo, although the timetable for a purchase was not clear, said the sources.
Talks between the UAE and the U.S. government were progressing well and were now focused on equipment specifications for the aircraft, the sources added.