Heli-Expo – Key feedback from Anaheim


As is the case every year, the global helicopter industry gathered for HAI aka Heli-Expo, this year in Anaheim, California, for the most important civil helicopter show in the world.

For the second consecutive year, all original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) had a dedicated booth, including Chinese Avicopter, but with the notable and ongoing exception of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) despite its ambition to become an independent helicopter maker especially, as far as the civil side is concerned, with its Dhruv aircraft.

Without going through a detailed company-by-company analysis, here are what, we believe, are the seven key points to keep in mind…

One: Bell Helicopter still has the lead… for the show. Bell Helicopter unveiled three new mock ups of its new light single aimed at filling the gap it left open to the Robinson R66 with the retirement of the 206, while also unveiling its name: the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X. Although the name is pretty close to the Relentless 525, this time the two ‘5′ do not refer to the range nor the number of blades. The only 5 we found was the number of seats and the fact that all new aircraft from Bell Helicopter should in the future start with a 5.

Two: Airbus Helicopters is reading newspapers. After the presentation of Guillaume Faury for Airbus Helicopters’ greetings to the press at the end of January, several journalists were very disappointed with the lack of news on the development aircraft, especially the X4 aimed at replacing the Dauphin in the 5-6t-class. While underlining its focus and commitment on a) safety and b) delivering (long) awaited aircraft (EC175 and EC145 T2), Guillaume Faury this time added a slide on the X4 to say that blades have flown around 150 hours so far, that the MGB has started endurance tests and that the first prototype composite structure will be delivered this summer. Besides, he indicated that the aircraft should reduce operational cost by 20% and noise by 30% as compared to current aircraft. Yet, mixing focus on safety and new aircraft development, the company also launched a new version of its EC225, dubbed ‘e’ (for ‘enhanced’), with a new updated avionics suite, an increased MTOW by 550kg thanks to a new Turbomeca Makila 2B turboshaft, and an extended range fuel tank.

Three: Sikorsky Aircraft needs a new helicopter… to fill its booth? The Connecticut-based helicopter maker’s booth was pretty empty this year, even if it filled it with a mockup of the Raider S-97 and a venerable S-52, along with, of course, the new S-76D. On this front, it is interesting to underline that the company intends to deliver no less than… 40 of the type this year which will clearly bring the company to its best civil results in history in 2014 as the S-92 is sold out for the year. As no decision has been taken regarding Schweizer helicopters, we don’t know whether the number of new aircraft will be much higher on Sikorsky’s booth next year or not…

Four: The (Italian) family needs attention. After (successfully) betting on the family concept during the last couple of years with the AW189 and the AW169 surfing on the success of the AW139 to increase commonality and reduce cost of operations (and ultimately convincing existing customers that the AW169 and AW189 will be the AW139 equivalent in their respective segments –a brilliant marketing strategy!), AgustaWestland has this year focused its speech on the support side of its business, with the launch of a New integrated Customer Support & Training organization. While unveiling a new customer portal called Leonardo, the company is primarily trying to show what service will mean for AgustaWestland. Based on three 24/7 Fleet Operations Centers in Lonate Pozzolo (Italy), Yeovil (UK) and Philadelphia (USA), this new organization will rely on the expansion of service centers (90 to date), Tech Reps and customer service managers network throughout the world to follow the successes of the family aircraft.

Five: Orders are clearly back. After a successful 2013 edition from an order point of view, the trend has been confirmed this year. Bell Helicopter alone recorded 196 orders, including 171 for the new Bell 505 Jet Ranger X. The combination of price (officially around $1mn, but confirmed below $1.1mn), customer support and attractiveness of the aircraft make us believe that, if the aircraft will not be the new cash machine of the company, it might give headaches to companies in this segment, Robinson first and foremost… Apart from those 171 Bell 505s, other orders included 10 Bell 525 Relentless to Abu Dhabi Aviation. As with the Bell 505, the Bell 525 is supposed to fly before year end. Despite those good numbers for new aircraft, others were a bit disappointing: only 2 Bell 429 orders despite the new wheeled landing gear version and 8 Bell 407GX orders.

Airbus Helicopter recorded 78 new orders (vs. 69 last year), including 14 EC175s (highly expected as the company recorded… zero in 2013) and 25 EC145T2s, with the large majority of orders coming from leasing companies and confirming a trend we recently highlighted.

AgustaWestland once again revealed combined orders by repeat customers, including Milestone Aviation Group (5 AW139s and 3 AW189s), LCI (7 AW139s and 1 AW189), Omni Helicopters International Group (4 AW139s and 5 AW189s). Sikorsky announced an order for 8 additional S-92s from Milestone Aviation Group, which now ordered a total of 37 aircraft (firm and option) worth more than $1.2bn, and a first order from Macquarie Rotorcraft Leasing for two S-92s to be leased back to Bond Offshore helicopters. Yet, no further orders were announced for the S-76D.

Six: New aircraft are rare and… not that new! If the Bell 505 is a mix of old (all the dynamics components will come from the 206L4) and new (Turbomeca Arrius 2R engine, Garmin 1000H avionics suite and the whole structure), the only other new aircraft among the major OEMs was the AW109 Trekker, which was promoted as a new member of the family in the light twin segment, but which appears to be a kind of simplified (or ‘rugged’ as the company underlined) GrandNew, with the same cabin but with landing skids and a downgraded avionics suite. It doesn’t mean it will not be successful, but after creating the buzz, it was a little disappointing.

Another unveiling took place at the Enstrom Booth. Here again, no revolution as the aircraft called TH-180 is a scaled down version of the 280FX model. Introduced as a low cost trainer, it will compete with the Robinson R22B and offered at a launch price of $365,000 along with direct operating costs of… $175 per hour! From a strategy point of view, the move is interesting as it clearly intends to bring back the brand in people’s mind to facilitate the sale of other aircraft. Besides, given the need for training in China, where the company’s shareholders are coming from since January 2013, it should not be too hard for Enstrom to meet expectations.

Seven: What’s next – Do OEMs have to bet on high speed and unmanned? There seems to be a little bit of hesitation regarding market trends and technological developments. Given the lack of public funds, the hesitation is even stronger as they have to self-finance those developments. While AgustaWestland openly indicates it has launched the Next Generation Civil Tilt Rotor (NGCTR) while also working on several UAV concepts from the Hero, a 200kg UAV to the Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System with the UK MoD, and including ongoing work on a unmanned SW-4 Sokol, other seem to be more cautious. For instance, Guillaume Faury declared, as regards UAV technologies: “Technologies today are ahead of what the market is and the regulations allow”, while also remaining mute on the future of the X3 concept and high speed use in general. Bell Helicopter is promoting the V-280 Valor for future Army needs, but seems to be too focused, for obvious reasons, on its civil helicopter programs under development to really wonder what’s next… At last, Sikorsky Aircraft has a mix approach in this field. On the one hand, the company seems to be hesitating regarding the super medium segment, probably still wondering if it has to launch a conventional aircraft or a brand new design using X2 high speed technologies. This reminds us what Jeff Pino said 5 years ago: “Sikorsky will not develop a new conventional civil helicopter in the future”. But on the other hand, Mark Miller and Chris Van Buiten made a very insightful presentation detailing the technologies the company is currently investigating. Rather than just highlighting the UAV programs under development, the two R&D executives gave their vision of the ways to increase autonomy and reliability through various systems mixing intelligence, automation, and, why not, speed.

Apart from those seven key points, we left Anaheim with an unanswered question: who really is the number one in the civil helicopter sector? Indeed, we were a bit confused by the figures given during the AgustaWestland press conference. The company indeed indicated commercial deliveries amounting to $1,539mn in 2013 vs. $1,509mn for Airbus Helicopters… The Italian company’s CEO Daniele Romiti added: “We think that we are now almost at a par or even slightly ahead of our longtime rival Eurocopter in terms of value of deliveries in the commercial market.” Although this is hard to take for granted, this assertion anyway confirms a feeling: AgustaWestland has become a leader in the civil helicopter business thanks to the sophisticated products launched in the past few years and completed by new ones using similar technologies which will enter the market this year (AW189 and AW169). This is quite close to the strategy that allowed in the past Eurocopter to reach the number one spot.

Republished courtesy of ADIT – The Bulletin.