Russian Helicopters’ subsidiary bought Italian aircraft designer

VR-Technologies needs Vertex Aero to achieve European certification of its VRT500 light rotorcraft

VRT500 (Russian Helicopters)

VR-Technologies, a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters has acquired Italian aircraft designer Vertex Aero. The deal was done in May, but surfaced only now. Vertex Aero will serve as premises for certification and serial production of Russian Helicopters’ new light rotorcraft programme, the VRT500.

Vertex Aero was chosen for its holding of EASA Design Organisation Approval, which is expected to facilitate VRT500 certification in Europe.

At the latest meeting of the Russo-Italian Council for economic, industrial and financial cooperation held last week in Moscow, Russia’s minister for industry and trade Denis Manturov mentioned VRT500 production among other cooperation projects. “The assembly line for VR-Technologies’ VRT500 prototypes has already been set up at the premises of Vertex Aero S.r.l,” the ministry said in a post-event statement. Both ground and flight testing will be done there.

According to the trade register of the Italian Chamber of commerce, VR-Technologies purchased 100 per cent of Vertex Aero from its previous owner Mecaer Aviation Group (MAG), a VIP helicopter interior design specialist, in May.

According to MAG’s website, the design bureau is involved in several projects with Russian Helicopters, including cabin interior designs and even design of flight management system for the VRT500. 

No details on the amount of the transaction have been disclosed, but the Vertex Aero’s registered capital is known to be 110,000 euro. In December, prior to the purchase, VR-Technologies sought an independent assessment of the cost of 100 per cent participation in Vertex’s registered capital. The accompanying note explained that the Russian helicopter monopoly was looking for a company capable of conducting design and programme development of VRT500 in Italy, under EASA jurisdiction and by its certification standards and practices. Vertex Aero’s Design Organisation Approval obtained in late 2019 made this company an attractive partner. By testing the new rotorcraft and later setting up its production in Italy, VR-Technologies will pave the way for their product’s certification in Europe. In the current environment, this might be the only way for Russian Helicopters to create a competitive product in the light segment – the pursuit the Russian company has been fancying for years. Previous attempts included a plan for a joint project with AgustaWestland (now Leonardo Helicopters) for a rotorcraft with MTOW under 2.5 tons. However, western economic sanctions imposed on Russian aerospace companies, including Russian Helicopters, in 2014 not only sent these plans down the drain, but made further cooperation with the Western industry extremely complicated, if not altogether impossible. Russian Helicopters created their subsidiary VR-Technologies with the sole purpose of developing VRT500, the single-engine turbine helicopter with the MTOW of 1,650 kg, with primary emphasis on international markets.

The first actual size mock-up of VRT500 premiered in May 2018. By now the programme accumulated an impressive line-up of foreign suppliers. It will be powered by Pratt& Whitney Canada’s PW207V engine, and will feature Liebherr Aerospace- produced air conditioning system, Thales’ FlytX avionics and Avio Aero’s gear box. Italy’s Italdesign, a luxury car design specialist, is participating in both exterior and interior design of the new helicopter.

At the end of last year UAE-based Tawazun investment fund announced it was starting negotiations for acquiring a 50 per cent share in VR-Technologies for $400 million. Tawazun also announced plans for ordering up to 200 VRT500s for police, rescue and private organizations. The order was evaluated at $225 million, and the order for the first 100 helicopters was expected in the first half of 2020. However, past summer Russian Helicopters’ general director Andrey Boginsky told TASS newswire, that the COVID-19 pandemic had interfered with Tawazun’s plans, and the deal is now expected to close by the end of this year.

As announced earlier, VRT500 maiden flight is scheduled for this year, certification is expected in 2022. Ministry for industry and trade added that serial production of the light rotorcraft would kick off in 2023.

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