VIPs keen as part-plane, part-helicopter arrives at Expo 2020 Dubai

Italian defence company Leonardo brings tiltrotor fixed wing aircraft to VIP helicopter terminal at world's fair

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Italian defence and aerospace company Leonardo will unveil its tiltrotor AW609 fixed wing aircraft in the helicopter terminal at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The nine-seat aircraft combines the hovering, vertical take-off and landing capabilities of a helicopter with the speed and high altitude of an aeroplane.

Alessandro Profumo, Leonardo's chief executive, said the company saw significant opportunities in the Middle East, North America, Europe, Japan and Australia for the AW609, that can use heliports in crowded areas and reach remote areas for medical missions.

I connect the Expo a little bit with the Olympics because people are coming together from all over the world
Alessandro Profumo, Leonardo's chief executive

“It has the flexibility of a helicopter, so you can take off and land in the middle of a city and you can also fly above the clouds,” he told The National in an interview.

“The helicopter has some constraints if it’s raining or very cloudy. But this can be used for emergency medical services, search and rescue operations, if you want to bring a person who had an accident to a hospital and also for VIP transport.”

The aircraft was flown from Italy to Dubai for its debut outside Europe and the US.

The plane can change the position of its engines in less than 60 seconds, fly at more than 500 kilometres an hour and has a range of almost 1,400 kilometres.

The programme is expected to receive US FAA certification "soon", the company said. Supplies to customers would then begin.

Half-plane, half-helicopter, AW609 lands at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Half-plane, half-helicopter, AW609 lands at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The plane is parked at the VIP helicopter terminal on the Expo 2020 site that the company has built in co-operation with Abu Dhabi’s Falcon Aviation Services.

Helicopter transport services to the Expo site are being operated by Falcon Aviation.

The helicopter terminal, located behind the China pavilion, is not open to the general public. It has six parking spaces and has been busy from day one.

In the three hours of the opening ceremony on Thursday, there were more than 40 take-offs and landings, mainly celebrities and businesspeople using the company’s AW139 models.

A continuous flow of VIP traffic is expected all through the Expo, on average about 20 take-offs and landings a day.

The UAE is an important market for Leonardo, with more than 100 helicopters used in the country for VIP transport, medical services and law enforcement.

The company was part of the last world's fair, in Milan in 2015, where it set up a main operation centre.

Mr Profumo said the company was keen to be part of the Expo 20202 Dubai because of its focus on future technology.

Along with Telespazio, a European space flight services company, Leonardo has launched T-Tec, a tech contest during the Expo open to students and researchers on the future of the space sector.

“I connect the Expo a little bit with the Olympics because people are coming together from all over the world,” he said.

“It creates national pride for different sites and also a sense of community.

“The Expo for Milan was an incredible catalyst of change for local communities.

"And in Dubai Expo, connecting is the key world. It’s an incredible opportunity to challenge yourself.”

In the UAE, Leonardo also has partnerships in security and shipbuilding, it supplies the MB-339 trainer jet for the UAE national aerobatic team Al Fursan.

The UAE Navy uses Leonardo's naval defence and combat management systems.

Cyber security, counter drone systems, coastal and border security are among other priority areas.

“The sea domain is important for the region,” Mr Profumo said.

“The next war will be cyber for sure, and we focus on protecting critical infrastructure on the cyber and physical side.”

The company launched its VIP helicopters and travel services under a related new name Agusta and unveiled the heliport called Casa Agusta at a formal ceremony at the Expo site on Saturday night.

Updated: October 03, 2021, 5:01 AM