It was against the ongoing Oil & Gas (O&G) slowdown that Helitech International, the largest European helicopter expo, opened its doors on 6 October back in its London original homebase. Clearly, cheap oil continues to have a clear and direct impact on the O&G helicopter market, disrupting the whole industry. By way of consequence, both sales and MRO revenues have so far and will continue to decrease in most cases during 2015, even if helicopter companies try to find and address new markets to absorb the shock.
In this challenging environment, however, helicopter leasing companies remain optimistic. According to them, the current business downturn is only an adjustment to the very high level of activity of the previous years and the situation should be back to normal soon. In the meantime, they also try to balance their revenue to reduce the O&G share by developing other segments such as EMS (emergency medical), SAR (search and rescue) and VIP. These markets are expected to be new growth areas in the coming year. According to a recent market Forecast, the EMS sector would indeed require around 2,000 helicopters in the next ten years. China, with only 0.3 helicopters per million inhabitants compared to the 43 EMS helicopters per million inhabitants in Western countries, could drive this growth with a need of around 600 EMS helicopters.
To be ready to fulfil this potential market, lessors adapt their fleets to the EMS mission requirements, and this move is clearly illustrated by orders of light twin helicopters announced during the show, such as the orders of 20 H135 as well as several AW169 and AW139 by Waypoint.
This adverse context clearly weighs on manufacturers and may have motivated Sikorsky’s decision not to not participate ao Helitech this year. The company indeed explained in a press release: “Our decision to not display at this show was purely driven by the ongoing weak market conditions and had nothing to do with the potential sale.” However, the other main helicopter manufacturers showed up at the event. Bell Helicopter presented its Bell 505 mock up, in addition to a Bell 429 VIP and a Bell 407. The company gave programme updates about the Bell 505 flight tests which have reached 450 flight hours to date. The first prototype has already conducted 300 flight hours, and will perform a 100 hours endurance ground run this fall to validate the train power ratings.
The second prototype reached around 120 flight hours and will complete its flight test by the end of the year, with cold weather performance validation. Finally the third helicopter completed 50 flight hours and has achieved noise certification. In the meantime, Bell Helicopter continues the certification process of the Bell 525 Relentless, expected to end in 2017, and expanded its European footprint with the certification as an Authorized Customer Service Facility of the Germany-based Agrarflug Helilift.
For its part, Airbus Helicopters had chosen to display its H160 mock up for the event. Designed for all type of missions, the H160’s order book should be open in 2016. However, since June, customers haven’t been able to choose engines as Turbomeca’s Arrano has been selected as single source after having answered favourably to the increase of power requirement by Airbus Helicopter for repositioning its aircraft into the 5.5-6 tons segment. Even if the first prototype currently flies with the PW210 engine, the second prototype is expected to fly soon and received its Arrano engines earlier in October.
The company also presented its new Hcare maintenance brand. Based on a flexible maintenance concept, H-care intends to adapt the level of maintenance to the mission and the wish of each operator. According to the company, these services received a warm welcome from operators as they often reduces their overall cost. PDG helicopters, contracted by the General Lighthouse Authorities, chose the H-care services in parts by the hour (PBH) for the H135 it bought during Helitech. In addition to Waypoint, the H135 was also chosen by Norwegian Air Ambulance which will effectively become the launch customer of the new variant.
Airbus Helicopter also received an order for a H145 by Yorkshire Air Ambulance to replace its MD 900 Explorer. The agreement includes a long term support arrangement for the 400 flight hours per year projected by the charity, which covers material management and 24/7 support across the U.K. Moreover, Airbus also launched the H145 Mercedes-Benz Style, whose interior will be designed by the German designer. With 4 helicopters already on order, the programme plans to deliver the first unit by the end of this year.
To accompany the market diversification, AgustaWestland displayed its new AW169 in VIP and EMS configuration. This new helicopter already received EASA certification in July 2015, and is expected to be FAA certified in 2016. Daniele Romiti, AgustaWestland’s CEO, took the opportunity to highlight the technologies which will be integrated into the AW169, such as a variable main rotor speed or a touchscreen display in glass cockpit. Powered by two PW210A engines, the AW169 first deliveries are now expected in the coming weeks. Pratt & Whitney was also proud to announce the increase in time between overhauls by 50% to 4,500h on its PT6B-37A powering the AW119 Koala.
Despite its woe on the UK SAR contract, Bristow, which expected to start operation of the AW189 after the Full Ice Protection system certification in early 2016, has agreed in March to become a partner of the AW609 programme. This tiltrotor is receiving several improvements before its certification in 2017, including external additional fuel tanks to increase the range up to 2000km, Extra Short TakeOff and Landing (EXSTOL) procedures to allow a Max TakeOff Weight increase, and a hoist integrated inside the rear door for SAR mission. Moreover, questioned about the cost, Roberto Garavaglia, VP Strategy and Business development of AgustaWestland, said: “The idea is to position ourselves on the cost of a similar 8t helicopter plus 50%.”
The future division of Finmeccanica bagged orders worth €140mn during the event, mainly driven by the Waypoint order of 18 AW169/AW139/AW189, to be delivered between 2016 and 2019. Finally, the Royal Thai Army has ordered 8 AW139 for transport and utility missions and Heliservices International booked one AW169 in Offshore configuration.
Written by ADIT – The Bulletin. Republished with permission.