The Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo was held in Las Vegas from 27 February to 1 March and attracted 17 312 attendees according to Helicopter Association International (HAI) figures, with 705 companies exhibiting and 51 helicopters on display.
HAI president and CEO, Mr. Zuccaro told AinOnline he believes the helicopter industry is finally recovering, following the several difficult years. It is being bolstered, he said, by two factors: the gas and oil segment being drawn back up due to the rising prices of oil, and humanitarian crisis around the world.
According to a forecast by Honeywell, such improvement should indeed occur, although in a modest way: between 4 000 and 4 200 civil helicopters are expected to be delivered from 2018 to 2022, up from 3 800 between 2013 and 2017. Honeywell is a little less optimistic than Mr. Zuccaro about the market’s health as it finds that oil and gas prices remain low, causing rotorcraft purchases to be often delayed. If many of the companies interviewed during the show agree on this low rate recovery, some also said the market is currently served by too many aircraft. Thus, companies must often find new ways to reallocate their assets, sometimes following mission package reconfigurations. On the other hand, most OEM said the priority today remains to help customer fly their helicopters, not necessarily sold new ones, especially in the commercial heavy class.
This year the light helicopter segment remains the healthiest. Bell’s 505 Jet Ranger X for example, is meeting strong demand, and deliveries are to really ramp up in 2018. Following its 400 Letters of Intent, seven orders were recently made, 4 by Helisul Táxi Aéreo to achieve commercial panoramic flights in Brazil, 2 by Helicopters Inc., and 1 by the Sacramento police department. Bell, which achieved FAA certification at the end of 2017 and EASA certification in early 2018, is now in the process of certifying kits for the 505.
In addition, the company chose HAI Heli Expo to launch the Bell 407 GXi, an upgraded version of its 407 GXP. This new aircraft will integrate the new Garmin 1000NXi avionics suit and the Rolls Royce M250-C47E/4: this new engine will add to the M250 C47D/8 core a dual Fadec channel which, in addition to improving safety, will also reduce fuel burn by 4% thanks to better engine management.
Kopter, formerly known as Marenco, is also meeting healthy demand for its all-composite, not yet certified SH09, having gathered $119 million in orders for 23 of the rotorcraft plus an optional 11 during Heli-Expo: orders were made by Helitrans AS in Norway, Paradise Helicopters, Elling Havorson and Safomar Aviation. This brings the SH09 total orders to 34, firm and optional, including 29 Memoranda of Agreement that will transform into contracts when certification is reached, plus around 100 Letters of Intent. The SH09 is targeting EASA certification in early 2019 and FAA certification in mid-2019. For the time being, the second prototype has accumulated 70 flight hours and has solved its vibration issues thanks to new blades. The third prototype is set to make its maiden flight during spring 2018 and should reach around 250 flight hours by September. The first pre-series aircraft (PS4) is expected for summer 2018.
The majority of Airbus’ sales were also for the light market in Las Vegas: 12 H125s, 4 H130s, 1 H135s and 28 H145s, including 25 EC145s ordered by Metro Aviation, the largest order ever placed by this medical transport company. Finally, Robinson Helicopter Company delivered at least 77 R66s last year, proving it is resisting the 505 Jet Ranger X’s competition.
The medium/super medium helicopter segment is also experiencing a slight improvement. During Heli-Expo, Leonardo received $140 million in orders from various customers, for seventeen of its AW family, including one AW 189, six AW169s, and six AW 139s. These rotorcraft will be due to accomplish various tasks such as search and rescue, VIP transportation or law enforcement.
The company openly announced it will mainly focus on its “AW family”, which regroups the AW169, AW139 and AW 189. The AW009, a light single programme base on the AW-4’s Polish design, pays the cost of this strategy: the program has been cancelled, while the 109 replacement, code-named 209, has been put on hold for the time being.
Still on the super medium market, Bell is preparing the certification of its Bell 525 and has received an estimated 80 letters of intent for it. The initial certification flight test programme should finish at the end of 2018 and certification is targeted for spring 2019. The company received support from Bristow during the show; a company mainly focused on the oil and gas business which has decided to diversify its business portfolio and has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bell to explore the 525’s possible use as a search-and-rescue (SAR) aircraft. According to Patrick Moulay, the aircraft is to have a progressive entry into service in 2019, with aircraft to start operation respectively in the North Sea, Middle-East, Gulf of Mexico and Asia for two types of missions: VIP and oil and gas. While the aircraft still doesn’t have an official launch customer, the company knows who this will be, according to Larry Thimmesch, the company’s Vice President, Bell 525 Sales & Business Development.
Airbus is also active on this market range with its H160 planned to be certified mid-2019. Even before the H160’s three months US demo tour planned right after the show, Babcock, as launch customer, has already ordered H160 and four other aircraft were ordered by US customers during Heli Expo.
Although Heli-Expo show’s name itself still refers to the helicopter market, many manufacturers are looking into non-helicopter solution for the future VTOL transportation. The tilt-rotor configuration chosen for the AW609, should be the first non-conventional one to reach the civil market.
Still targeting certification by the end of 2019 for this rotorcraft, Leonardo and Era Group (Era) announced during the Expo the signing of a landmark agreement that would launch the AW609 into service in the U.S. commercial market and demonstrate its capabilities on a wider scale. Era would take delivery of two AW609s in 2020. Also targeting high-speed cruise, Airbus Helicopter’s Racer will integrate an innovative power pack designed by Safran Electrical & Power: Aneto-1X.
Furthermore, as a “technology company,” Bell displayed its vision of what could be a future Urban Air mobility cabin on its booth. The company also plans to do a 5000 to 6000lbs full scale demonstrator for the UBER Urban Air Taxi project. Indeed, much is expected from eVTOLs and the expected urban mobility segment.
And Sikorsky’s officials also emphasized their interest for non-conventional aircraft, saying their new commercial helicopter, while not being below the 10,000lbs weight, could well be based on the X2 concept and use some of the technologies developed through the Matrix and Sara programmes.
Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.