Leonardo – Complete Helicopter Solutions

Text by Erik Bruijns and Lex de Kort
Over the past 100+ years, Leonardo, as a company, has undergone numerous name changes to evolve into the entity it is today. Tracing its origins back to 1864, expertise from various businesses has gradually merged into a single entity.
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The Leonardo AW139 is a versatile helicopter, well-suited for SAR missions. All armed forces in Italy use these helicopters - Erik Bruijns
Looking into Leonardo's roots, the company divides into four main business sectors: Helicopters, Aeronautics, Space, and Defence Electronics & Security. Each of these sectors comprises companies or subsidiaries operating either under their own names or under the Leonardo name. The Vergiate area plays a pivotal role in the Helicopter Division's manufacturing operations, housing the final assembly lines for several helicopter models such as the AW109, AW139, AW149, AW169, and AW189. Finished helicopters proceed from the same assembly line utilized since the early 20th century to the nearby flight line, where they are readied for delivery and customer acceptance. However, Leonardo's operations extend far beyond these assembly lines, encompassing essential activities that ensure the helicopters remain operational and that pilots and crew are trained with state-of-the-art technology.
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The 365 meter long assembly hangar, symbolizing 365 days a year that the assembly line at Leonardo was open during the time of war - Erik Bruijns
Logistics Experts

Located near the Leonardo factory in Vergiate, the main headquarters for customer support of the Leonardo Helicopter Division is situated in Sesto Calende, a site steeped in aviation history. Today, this facility employs over 500 people. Mr. Fabrizio Peano, head of the Leonardo Helicopters Training Academy, explains, "Worldwide, our division employs over 2,000 people. We operate more than 100 facilities around the globe, providing 24/7 support to 1,500+ customers. This extensive network is crucial for us, enabling support to a large customer base operating a combined fleet of over 4,500 helicopters. Our ability to offer customer service and logistics solutions across all operational areas is key to delivering best-in-class service. Each customer presents unique requirements and specific needs, demanding our continuous adaptation to the dynamic environments in which our customers operate." From a customer perspective, having access to vital support and spare parts is essential for maintaining operational readiness under any conditions. For Leonardo, the customer support division is a significant revenue source, contributing approximately 40% to the company's earnings, thus representing a fundamental component of the organization. Mr. Peano adds, "Our discussions with customers revolve around forming long-term partnerships. The manufacturing division's job might conclude with a new helicopter's delivery at the final assembly line, but for us, it marks the beginning of an enduring journey together. The numbers are a testament to Leonardo's investment and, to a large extent, reflect our employees' passion for providing top-tier customer support."
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An AW119 used for training mechanics. The variety of training methods provided by Leonardo seems endless - Erik Bruijns
Leonardo's global presence is organized into various centers worldwide, facilitating 24/7 support. Mr. Peano details, "We operate three fleet operations centers, including one here in Sesto Calende, Italy, with the other two located in the UK and the US."

These centers are interconnected, providing round-the-clock support every day of the week. We manage materials and spare parts through our 13 logistic centers, with the primary one located in Vergiate, Italy, and additional centers in the UK, Poland, the US, Brazil, Belgium, China, Malaysia, Australia, and the UAE. The aim is to be as close to our customers' operations as possible. Therefore, whenever there is a need for materials, we first look to our material service centers where we have stock, enabling us to deliver to the customer as swiftly as possible. Over recent years, we have also invested significantly in local repair centers, particularly for major components such as blades or gearboxes, where logistics management can be challenging. To minimize turnaround time and costs, we established these repair capabilities to enhance our support for the helicopter fleet. There are, in total, ten general repair centers and eleven blade repair centers. Additionally, we have established service centers through partnerships, creating a maintenance network. We select customer operators with whom we partner, often those already possessing local maintenance or support capabilities. We extend our footprint through these partners, introducing our highest standards in those countries. Currently, we operate 90 such centers, but we are continually expanding our network and seeking further partnerships.
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24-7 support centres constantly analyze data to provide support to the customers, and is ready for phone and online support - Leonardo
A crucial aspect of our logistics and support work is the engineering and services foundation, through which Leonardo provides continuous maintenance and operational support. "They primarily provide the technical publications for each helicopter," as Mr. Peano continues. "But they also offer detailed advice in response to technical requests from customers or anticipate technical needs through monitoring our Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS). With the help of our Diagnostic Services Tower, we can process data from the entire fleet and provide real-time analysis to our customers. We are revolutionizing the way we address customer needs by focusing on constant data monitoring, gathering, analysis, diagnostics, and predictive maintenance services, as well as smart assistance." Combined with a renewed Fleet Operations Centre, this Diagnostic Services Tower creates a collaborative workspace with broad access to global fleet data. This unique service and the digital environment it fosters align perfectly with Leonardo's strategy, emphasizing the expansion of advanced digital services, particularly in areas such as data monitoring, diagnostics, and predictive maintenance.
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The manufacturing of helicopters is only a part of the business for Leonardo. Here, one brand new AW189 is at the final stages of the production process - Erik Bruijns
Leonardo supports customers engaged in a broad range of missions, each requiring its own support network and altering the way support is provided. Leonardo has defined four main types of helicopter missions:

• Transport, including offshore as well as executive and private transport
• Utility, encompassing public service and security services
• Medical and Rescue Services, including Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Search And Rescue (SAR)
• Military/Government, covering dual-use, naval, and battlefield operations

Mr. Peano explains, "The agreement and the setup we establish to support one customer are never identical to another. We are always seeking opportunities to tailor our support service scheme to best fit the operational needs of our customers. The feedback we receive from our customers is overwhelmingly positive."
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Two of the three full flight simulators that are used at the Sesto Calende site are in use almost all hours a day, seven days a week - Erik Bruijns
Data-Driven Innovation

With the advent of new technology and an ever-evolving workspace, there has been a shift in how companies operate, gather data, and leverage this information to refine their processes, systems, and customer relationships, as explained by Mr. Paolo Petrosso, Vice President of Simulation & Training Services. "We are continuously collecting information and data from our customers, which we then utilize in our analytics and diagnostic tools. Gathering this information isn't always straightforward, and sometimes we encounter resistance from customers reluctant to share data with Leonardo, particularly military operators due to the sensitivity of their information. Moreover, from the customer's perspective, there can be workload-related challenges in providing this data, even though we strive to automate the data transfer process as much as possible. However, this journey of data collection and utilization is one we are undertaking alongside our customers, and we are currently amassing a significant amount of data. According to some experts, our industry is expected to become completely data-driven within the next three to five years, although others predict a tipping point where certain data will remain protected. We are on this path and continually refining our data collection systems and the way we manage the data received from our customers. The services we offer enable us to collect the necessary data, and our customers recognize the value Leonardo can provide in return. Our current focus is on specific value services, meaning we do not use the data for proactive sales or to predict potential spending by the customer. Instead, we collaborate with customers to maximize the use of what they currently have. For instance, we provide insights into their fuel consumption, predicting a 10% increase in fuel usage over the next 100 hours for a specific helicopter based on current trends. We then work together to devise solutions that can save fuel, such as determining the optimal moment to lower the landing gear during an approach. By analyzing the data we collect, we aim to make incremental changes that significantly impact our customers' expenses and environmental footprint."
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Elaborate manuals are accessible online and provide easy access to important components - Leonardo
The transition towards a more data-centric operation is a common trajectory across many industries, including Leonardo. The changing landscape of information gathering and sharing poses challenges for some end-users, as Mr. Petrosso notes. "Technology apprehension exists, and there's at least one generation currently active in all domains that began their careers before the widespread introduction of computers. We must address this by demonstrating the added value data analysis can offer. Regarding aviation authorities, there's still a gap in understanding the full potential of what companies like Leonardo can achieve with data analytics. By aggregating data across the entire fleet, we can streamline how we test our helicopters and components, reducing the need for extensive ground and flight testing, thus saving time, fuel, grease, and oil to achieve the same outcomes. This innovative approach to certifications is another area where we are working closely with authorities to enhance."
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Technology is constantly changing. Pilots use iPads connected to the helicopter to have all information at hand - Erik Bruijns
Training Solutions Evolution

The inaugural Leonardo Helicopter Training Academy, established in Sesto Calende, Italy, in 2006, initially provided training to 600 students. By 2020, this number had escalated to an average of 10,000 annually, thanks to the expansion of Leonardo's global training network, which now includes facilities in the United Kingdom, Poland, and Malaysia, in addition to authorized training centers. The training solutions offered range from basic desktop e-learning courses and in-house maintenance training to advanced simulators.

Mr. Peano details the expansion of training services: “Our primary training headquarters is located in Sesto Calende. Over recent years, we've expanded our footprint globally. We operate in four additional domestic markets: the UK, the US, Malaysia, and Poland. These training academies are organized to function as a unified academy, meaning all certifications are centrally managed from our headquarters in Italy. From here, we maintain relationships with various authorities and ensure training across all our academies meets the same high standards. Beyond these academies, we have established additional training centers in eight more countries, tailored to local needs through partnerships with customers and operators. For example, we have a full flight simulator for the AW189 in Aberdeen, serving a customer in the oil and gas market. This allows different operators in the area to access training facilities nearby, making their training programs more efficient. We continuously seek further investments in this area, in collaboration with our partners, to meet emerging needs.”
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The use of Virtual Reality systems adds a new dimension to the training methods. Rear crew training reduces cost for the operators and increases safety - Erik Bruijns
Leonardo provides an extensive range of training solutions for pilots, crew, and maintenance personnel, focusing primarily on conversion to type training for various helicopters. Mr. Peano continues: “In recent years, we've heavily invested in what we term operational training. There's a growing need from customers and operators not only to train pilots and co-pilots but also to train rear crew members, as successful missions depend on the entire crew's coordination. We've developed a unique capability in Sesto Calende to provide operational training for rear crew, including medical personnel as well as hoist and rescue operators, using in-house developed technology. Additionally, we have instructors who visit customer premises to extend training to rear crew members on-site. This approach is somewhat unique to our training organization. What we offer here at our facilities marks the beginning of each crew member's training journey, which is then complemented at the customer's premises to complete their training activities. We can deliver these diverse training activities thanks to custom, in-house-built training devices, which we also provide to our customers as needed. We are fully independent today, with a unique capability to design and develop these training devices, ranging from simple Virtual Interactive Procedural Training to the most advanced full flight simulators and Virtual Reality technology. While we produce all devices in-house at Leonardo, our focus isn't on leading in technology—which rapidly changes—but in leading the integration of systems and technology implementation specific to our helicopters. Our advantage lies in having access to source data from the initial design stages of our helicopters, combined with data from further development, test flights, and operational use. Starting from this data, we can develop systems and training solutions that closely mirror the real-life scenarios our customers and operators face in the field.”
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Flight simulators at Leonardo provide a realistic experience to new pilots as well as experienced pilots - Leonardo
Leonardo's Simulator Development Journey

Leonardo has been at the forefront of simulator development for many years, enabling the creation of new solutions in reduced timeframes. This agility is crucial as the market constantly evolves with new technologies that can be integrated into simulators and training solutions. Over the past 15-20 years, the teams responsible for developing these systems have amassed extensive experience. Initially, Leonardo provided support for third-party simulators before venturing into the development of its own systems. Approximately six to seven years ago, Leonardo transitioned to managing all aspects of simulator development in-house. The primary goal behind this shift isn't to commercialize the simulators but rather to enhance support for customers and operators, with the safety of helicopters and onboard crew being paramount during the development process.
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Another example of the way Leonardo is providing training. An AW169 in Emergency medical services configuration can be used to train paramedics - Erik Bruijns
The pace of technological development, particularly in Virtual Reality (VR), is accelerating rapidly. Leonardo first focused on rear crew training devices, believing the technology available three years ago was insufficient for pilot training. However, current VR technology can now realistically replicate a cockpit, offering pilots significant benefits during their training. Leonardo's approach to developing these new systems involves modular "bricks," where different bricks are combined based on specific needs to create a new simulator. Each brick embodies a piece of technology developed over the years and is designed to interact seamlessly with others. This modular approach keeps costs low and simplifies the construction of smaller simulators that can be easily installed at customer sites.
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The AW169 has been designed with the latest technology and a variety of new systems, making it ideal to replace different types currently in service - Erik Bruijns
Leonardo is currently exploring new concepts that integrate various elements to simulate entire missions, allowing for comprehensive training that includes not just pilots but also operational flight training devices for rear crew members. Such integration offers the opportunity for the entire crew to train together, interacting as they would during actual flights, thus ensuring they are better prepared for real-life missions. The potential of these systems expands further when considering the connection of other simulators, such as a boat, to enable full mission training systems for integrated operations. This holistic approach to simulation underscores Leonardo's commitment to advancing training technologies that enhance the preparedness and safety of helicopter crews and operators.
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A HH-139B seen during a rescue mission