The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) has taken delivery of two Leonardo AW139 helicopters, which will be operated by the service on lease. It is also seeking to lease another four similar medium-lift, utility helicopters, early next year. This came about after the grounding and eventual phasing out of the Sikorsky S-61A-4 Nuri fleet in January last year, which had been a mainstay and workhorse for the RMAF for over 50 years. The airframes, which are being leased from the Malaysian company Westar Aviation Services, were received by the service’s No 3 Squadron in December 2021, the RMAF said in a statement published via an official social media post on 21 January.
All four helicopters will operate from the RMAF’s No 3 Squadron based at Butterworth, Penang. The move was a short-term, stop-gap solution in its long-term plan to eventually acquire a fleet of 24 new helicopters with combat-search and rescue capabilities. The Royal Malaysian Air Force already have a fleet of 12 Eurocopter EC-725 Caracals (now referred to as Airbus Helicopters H225M) that were procured in 2012. RMAF plan is to have a total of 36 such new helicopters to form three squadrons, adding that more helicopters may be leased if required, for the next five years.
The four AW139 were leased from Weststar Aviation Services and were based at the RMAF Butterworth base in Penang. It is learnt that Weststar Aviation Services has despatched a full complement of spares and maintenance services, including technical and engineering crew, to Butterworth as part of the Government-Operates-Company-Owns and Maintains lease deal. The helicopters painted in the grey Royal Malaysian Air Force livery at the Weststar Aviation Services hangar in Kertih, Terengganu and expected to be handed over to the RMAF. Weststar Aviation Services Sdn Bhd is a non-scheduled airline company based in Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport and subsidiary of Weststar Group.
The AW139 is a 15-seat medium-sized twin-engined helicopter developed and built by AgustaWestland (now part of Leonardo). It is marketed at several different roles, including VIP/corporate transport, offshore transport, fire fighting, law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical service, disaster relief, and maritime patrol. The three Royal Malaysian Navy Leonardo AW139 Maritime Utility Helicopter also will be in service. The first two helicopters and its associated equipment are expected to be shipped from Italy between 17 December, 2021 and 28th February, 2022. The second AW139 is expected to be delivered on May 2023 and the third one on 28 February 2024.