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Heli-Expo 2017 roundup

Bell FCX concept.Heli-Expo is the world’s biggest helicopter exhibition, attracting some 20 000 people This year’s edition took place between 7 and 9 March in Dallas, Texas. Here is a roundup of some of the big news from the show.

Bell unveiled its FCX concept helicopter during the first minutes of Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas. As the automotive industry often does, the Texas-based helicopter maker decided to unveil a concept helicopter aimed at demonstrating the renewed focus of the company on innovation under Mitch Snyder leadership. The idea of the concept is not to make it fly, but to show some of the technologies the company believes in and could implement on future helicopters. The main features appeared to be the high level of automation, with only one pilot controlling the aircraft while being assisted by computers, a new antitorque control system, new blades inspired by “morphing” technology but also, broadly speaking, a higher use of electricity to power the aircraft, even if the main rotor will still be powered by gas-turbine engines.

Leonardo Helicopters still expects its AW609 to be certificated in 2018 with deliveries starting in 2019 and hopes to test and fly a prototype of a 2nd generation civil tiltrotor by 2023. The next step for the AW609, which is said to have already started, consists of icing test that aircraft #3 will perform during March and April in Marquette, Michigan. 1,300 flight test hours have been performed to date, representing slightly more than half the number of hours planned for certification (2,000 to 2,500).

Sikorsky has announced on March 7 that it will soon add real-time aircraft tracking and health monitoring (HUMS) for the S-92 fleet operated by PHI thanks to a new tool developed by Outerlink Global Solutions, a Metro Aviation company. The partnership between Sikorsky, PHI and Metro Aviation will allow real-time communication of data extracted from the helicopters’ HUMS systems in case of problem thanks to data transmission by satellite. The pilot will thus be assisted by data analysis to understand what the issue really is in order to adapt its answer to the problem.

MD Helicopters has unveiled a mock-up of the MD6XX in the 2.5t single-engine class and a modernized version of the light-twin MD902 Explorer to be named MD969. MD expects the MD6XX to achieve certification by the end of 2018.

Bell officially delivered the first new 505 Jet Ranger X to an external customer (the first two were delivered to the Bell Training academy), to Chandler, Arizona-based Pylon Aviation owner Scott Urschel on 7 March at Heli-Expo 2017.

Bell Helicopter plans to resume flight testing of the 525 in the next several months after it was halted following an accident last July. Bell has about 80 LoI for its 525, in VIP/Corporate and oil & gas, and has logged around 200 flight hours since the first flight of the aircraft. The FTV#1 that crashed last summer will not be replaced, and the certification campaign will finally involve 4 aircraft in total. Certification is expected for the end of 2018 with deliveries starting soon after.

At the end of the show, Rotor & Wing International revealed that investigators had found that Bell’s 525 prototype had experienced rotor system vibration and frequency resonance in its airframe and flight control system before crashing last July. This had not been seen in any previous flight test, according to investigators quoted by the publication.

Safran Helicopter Engines plans to have its new Arrano engine certified by the end of 2018 and announced two new large engine programs (without customers… so far) based on the Tech 3000 program, in the 2,500shp range for the first one and the 3,000shp for the second.

Marenco has announced that its single engine helicopter Skye SH09 will enter service with 2 launch customers in 2019, Alpinlift Helikopter and Air Zermatt. Marenco is still searching for more operators to join the launch group and expects the aircraft to complete certification at the end of 2018 for deliveries in the following year. The company today has some 90 LoI for the aircraft. A third prototype is to join the fleet in Q3 to speed up the flight testing campaign.

Pratt & Whitney recalls its helicopter engines flew a total of 60 million hours, powering more than 5,000 helicopters used for corporate transport, firefighting, EMS, O&G and parapublic services. It is ranked #1 in overall engine reliability by AIN and #1 for overall service by Vertical magazine.

Flight Global reported that Leonardo is waiting for clarity on regulatory reform efforts before it can launch the AW209, the successor to the AW109, the company’s light twin. The lengthy arrival of the new AW109 Trekker probably also explains the discretion surrounding the existence of that program, officially confirmed in May 2016 by Leonardo CEO Mauro Moretti during a presentation in front of an Italian Parliament’s committee.

Sikorsky Aircraft announced it made a very strong push in the customer support business in 2017. While setting up 4 forward stocking locations (and considering 2 more in 2017), the company also launched its new Customer Care Center split into an AOG Resolution Center and a Fleet management center part. Thanks to those new initiatives, massively relying on Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS), it reduced the AOG occurrences by 72%, the AOG turnaround time by 66%, while reaching an aircraft availability above 95%, Dana Fiatarone said during the press conference of the company.

Airbus Helicopters has announced that the H175 has received certification by the EASA for a maximum take-off weight extension from 7.5t to 7.8t.

Enstrom Helicopters and Vertivue, an aerial imagery provider, have partnered to showcase images from the new Skybox stabilized camera system on the 480B helicopter. The Michigan based company also announced it has delivered its 4th aircraft to Sharkey’s Helicopters, which now taken delivery of 2 480B and 2 F28F. Despite a difficult year in 2016, Enstrom sees several opportunities in the market and remains confident it has the right products to answer market expectations, especially for training missions.

Leonardo Helicopter unveiled its new TeamUp support program, gathering the company’s customer support and training services. The objective is of course to simply the service and make it more efficient, especially regarding AOG support.

S-92 flight hours increased 20% in 2016 compared to 2015, Dana Fiatarone indicated during Sikorsky’s press conference.

Kaman Aerosystems plans to deliver the 1st K-Max K-1200 heavy external-lift helicopter to China in April. The second should follow in May. The company is currently thinking about producing a 2nd batch of K-Max helicopter and is looking for new orders before making a decision within 60 days.

Bell Helicopter is partnering with DART Aerospace on the design and development of an emergency flotation system Supplemental Type Certificate for the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X helicopter.

Sikorsky and FlightSafety International have announced the entry into service of a new Graphical Flight-deck simulator designed for the Sikorsky S-76D helicopter.

Safran Helicopter Engines has signed a Support-By-Hour contract for engines operated by the UK Military Flying Training System program. The agreement between Safran Helicopter Engines UK and Airbus Helicopters is worth more than €100M and will last 17 years.

Leonardo Helicopters and Elbit Systems have signed an agreement to jointly market and install the Heli-ClearVision enhanced flight vision system on Leonardo’s family of commercial rotorcraft. The system is expected to receive certification in 2018.

Sikorsky and Bristow Group announce that they have entered into a long-term agreement to establish Bristow as the preferred supplier for ab initio pilot training for Sikorsky aircraft customers at the Bristow Academy.

Safran Helicopter Engines has signed the 1st 5Star Plans contract to support Arrius 2R engines operated by Bell Helicopter’s Training Academy that have 2 Bell 505 aircraft. 5Star Plans offers 5 different levels of services.

Lithium-ion batteries will be used to power the Robinson R44 light piston and as the engine-start system for the Bell Helicopter 505 according to True Blue Power which has received supplemental type certificate to use the 17.5Ah-rated TB17 battery in the Robinson R44 and is awaiting for the same certificate for the R66.

Waypoint Leasing has a lease agreement with Shanghai Skyway and will lease an Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter to another Chinese operator. It will provide Skyway with support and helicopter transportation of a new Airbus H135.

Leonardo and Shanghai Zenisun Investment Co. have announced the strengthening of their strategic cooperation in the Chines civil helicopter market. They renewed the Distributorship Agreement with Sino-US Intercontinental as the only distributor of Leonardo’s products in China.

Milestone Aviation Group is leasing a Leonardo AW169 to HeliKorea for Emergency Medical Services operations in South Korea. Milestone is also leasing 2 Sikorsky S-92 and 5 Sikorsky S-76D helicopters to Thai Aviation Services. All helicopters are expected to be operational in Thailand by the end of March. At last, it will lease 2 AW139 helicopters to Norsk Luftambulanse to be used to support emergency medical services in Norway.

Cobham has launched its new UK Helicopter Training Academy at the HAI Heli-Expo for the 1st time.

Thales announces that it has developed a small autopilot for helicopters, the Thales Compact Autopilot that can fit all aircraft thanks to its very light design. The company is targeting the VFR and IFR markets.

MD Helicopters has selected Genesys Aerosystems’ new-generation integrated display units as standard aboard the MD 902 Explorer. The Genesys system will be available in the 3Q 2017.

Leonardo Helicopters will soon take delivery of Pratt & Whitney Canada’s 2,000th PT6C—67C helicopter engine for its AW139 helicopter Program.

STAT MedEvac will be the 1st air medical transport service in North America to operate Airbus H135 helicopters equipped with Helionix, an innovative and powerful avionics system after it placed orders for 3 H135 to be delivered in the 4Q of 2017. STAT MedEvac has also selected SKYTRAC Flight Data Monitoring for their fleet of EC135 and EC145 helicopters.

Leonardo has sold an AW139 in VIP configuration for the 1st time in the Japan’s corporate market. New contracts and deliveries are bringing Leonardo’s orders close to 160 units in Japan.

Twelve new AW139 air medical helicopters equipped with Donaldson AW139 Inlet Barrier Filters have entered service in Australia, operated by Toll Helicopters and Hunter Westpac Life Rescue Helicopter Services. The AW139 IBF was displayed in Donaldson exhibit at HAI Heli-Expo.

Main orders during the show

USA: GECAS-owned leasing company Milestone has placed a $200mn firm order for Airbus Helicopters including H145, H135 and H175 helicopters. The aircrafts should be delivered in mid-2017. Meanwhile, Milestone also ordered six AW139s and three AW169s worth €90mn to be delivered in 2017 and 2018. The helicopters will perform parapublic missions, including EMS.

USA: REACH Air Medical Services has ordered 5 new H125 from Airbus Helicopters, this is the 1st order for this aircraft. Two H125 are scheduled to be delivered in June and the other 3 should follow in the 3Q.

JAPAN: Japanese company Nakanihon Air Service Co., Ltd. (NNK) ordered two Bell 429s to be delivered later this year and used for EMS operations.

CHINA: Chinese operator Reignwood confirmed 50 more orders of the Bell 505 model during the show, coming in addition to the 10 already ordered. Aircraft will be delivered during the coming three years and turn Reignwood into the largest 505 operator in the world.

CHINA: Ruo’er General Aviation Development Group has signed a LoI with Airbus Helicopters for 12 H125s with the 1st confirmed order of 4 aircraft. The H125s will be operated by Lhasa Snow eagle General Aviation Corporation, a JV of Ruo’er.

IRELAND: Waypoint Leasing is acquiring 16 Airbus Helicopters for more than €100mn. The purchase includes H135 and H145 as well as H175, the 1st of this type to be acquired by the company.

Written by ADIT - The Bulletin and republished with permission.