The Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) Heli-Expo, which took place at the end of January in Anaheim, California, was plunged into mourning following the tragic death of 9 people including famous basketball player Kobe Bryant and his daughter in a helicopter accident near Calabasas.
The event which brought together more than 700 exhibitors and 18 000 industry professionals saw 60+ aircraft exposed over 1 million square feet of space. Going into details, it seems Bell shined during the event, displaying its full range of civil aircraft from the 505 up to its medium and super-medium vehicles, the Bell 412 EPX and Bell 525 which are still pending the certification process. The manufacturer achieved interesting results this year with the sales of 190 civil helicopters including 101 Bell 505s and approximately 60 Bell 407s. The group has also disclosed its collaboration with Wintershall Dea Norge AS, a Norwegian Oil & Gas operator with the aim of enhancing operational safety to the North Sea, by supporting the Bell 525.
“This collaboration is a great deal for us, it shows that Bell achievements and efforts to make the 525 a new standard for O&G industries have been well received by major oil companies,” Bell’s Vice President of International sales Patrick Moulay told The Bulletin.
Apart from the groundbreaking annoucenment of its acquisition of Kopter AG, Leonardo displayed its AW family, showcasing the AW139, AW169 and AW189. In the meantime, it seems the Italian company has signed several contracts with the Air Force and the Navy disclosing they would provide them with the MH-139 Grey Wolf and the TH119 which will become the Navy’s prime aircraft for training. No to forget, Pratt & Whitney Canada is also part of the deal as they will provide both helicopters cited above with their engines, the PT6-B and PT6-C. Furthermore, the company was glad to celebrate the 50 years in service of another derivative of the PT6, the twin pack PT6-T. With around 7,400 twin pack delivered, the life of this continuously improved engine is not close to end, as the aircraft power the newly certified Bell412 EPX.
Airbus also made the show, disclosing the luxury helicopter jointly designed with the famous British supercar manufacturer Aston Martin. The European Manufacturer concluded the HAI Heli-expo with 38 firm orders as well as 20 retrofits for the new five bladed H145 (including an order for 15 units placed by DRG Luftrettung). Also, NASA has ordered 3 new H135s, making it the first-time partnership between the US space Agency and Airbus.
In the meantime, Oil Major Shell aircraft subsidiary confirmed its interest for the H160 for offshore transportation. The Dutch group has a solid influence on the O&G aviation business and this announcement will probably facilitate Airbus’s communication strategy on the latter market.
Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky also made several announcements during the show. The group disclosed they would accept position agreement for upgrades to best in class S-92 helicopter, the S-92A+ and the S-92B helicopters. The modifications include a new gearbox and 20% larger windows for a $28mn base price (in O&G configuration) available in 2025. The company was also keen to dispatch an S-70i Firehawk from LA County CALFIRE San Diego to the public on their booth. In addition to this Firehawk, 3 other S-70i in firefighting configuration were displayed during the week. The increasing number of forest fires around the world is boosting sales for these kinds of vehicles which are often seen as a last resort to fight these ecological disasters. Sikorsky expects to deliver more than a dozen over the next two years.
Kopter, freshly brought by Leonardo, is still awaiting joint EASA/FAA certification for the carbon composite SH09 which is due by the end of 2020. Meanwhile, the Swiss manufacturer signed multiple contracts throughout the show. Utility operator Rainer Heli International has decided to fully commit to their initial contract by buying 5 vehicles (initial contract was signed on March 2018, it included 9 firm orders with 5 options). Philippian operator INAEC has also opted for one option marking Kopter deal for the first time with this country. Since 2018 Kopter has amassed more than 120 LOI which makes them sold out for the next three years.
MD Helicopters displayed its new MD 530G Block II light scout Attack aircraft during the event. The Block 2 system on the 530G will be available this year, incorporating an Elbit helmet-mounted head-up display as well as a pilot-centric integrated Weapon System. The Block 2 Genesys Aerosystems avionics suite is certified and will be available in the MD 530/530G and MD 600. “By the end of this year, everything will have new technology and the new glass,” said MD CEO Lynn Tilton.
“With all the certifications we need to do, we’re trying to hire more in-house designated engineering representatives, so we can get things done more quickly,” Tilton disclosed. In addition, MD Helicopters prepares to return the MD902 twin engine helicopter to the market. The company has selected a Universal Avionics InSight flight deck, which will be single-pilot IFR capable and feature the Universal SkyLens head-mounted head-up display. “Restoring the production of the MD902 is a priority” Tilton said.
In the low end of the market, Robinson has faced a challenging year in 2019, with a production decrease of around 33%, to 196 units. However, the company has seen a strong sales uptick in the last three months. “Currently, we’re producing one R22 per week, two R66s per week, and three R44s per week. At that current rate, we’re actually sold out the first six months for both the R44 and the R66,” CEO Kurt Robinson explained, with a confident tone in his voice.
Helicopter news highlights:
USA: Bell announced more orders for its 505 Jet Ranger X and IFR-capable 407GXi turbine-single helicopters. Centaurium Aviation signed a purchase agreement for 3 Bell 505s. Bell also won a new order from the Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) in Tallahassee, Florida as well as an IFR-configured 407GXi to South Texas Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS).
USA: Bell’s production-conforming super-medium 525 Relentless made its Heli-Expo debut. The helicopter made its way from Bell’s Fort Worth, Texas headquarters in about seven hours and with four stops. FAA flight testing will conclude after about 2,000 hours of flying.
USA: Bell announced new technological enhancements available for full commercial aircraft line. The announcements concern Bell 407GXI (new IFR capability allows all-weather operations while continuing to provide multi-mission capabilities) Bell429 / Bell Subaru (All Bell Subaru, Bell 412EPX and Bell 429 aircraft now feature the second-generation BasilXPro avionic suites produced by Astronautics) and Bell 525 (fitted with an oil-and-gas interior).
USA: In a partial break with its partner Uber (as well as its own historical business model) Bell plans to vertically integrate aircraft production, flight operations and nearly everything in between, in order to grab a large piece of the nascent electric-vertical-take-off-and-landing (eVTOL) air taxi industry. Bell anticipates thousands of eVTOLs operating within some major cities. The company says choreographing operations such operations, with each aircraft flying around 2,000h per year, can’t be done with human personnel.
USA: Sales in Sikorsky helicopter business could rise 9% this year from $5.1bn in 2019 and double in size over the next dozen years, CFO Ken Possenriede told WSJ after the stock hit an all-time high. The company reported stronger than forecast Q4 earnings, raised guidance for 2020 sales, profits and cash flow, and the CFO said it could end the year with an order backlog worth $148bn, up 3% from 2019.Three top Sikorsky programs – a new presidential helicopter, a transport chopper for the Marine Corps and a rescue helicopter fleet for the Air Force – all reach key production milestones this year, and it is pursuing two huge Pentagon contracts worth nearly $100bn.
USA: Sikorsky has announced that the S-92A+, the upgrade kit of the S-92A which includes main gear box upgrade and MTOW increase, will be available for customers in 2023. Whereas the S-92B version, presented at HAI 2019 will ready for customers in 2025.
USA: Fort Worth-based Schweizer exhibited two helicopters: the S300C, a 2,050-pound utility rotorcraft powered by a 190-hp Lycoming HIO-360-D1A, with a 950-pound useful load and 95-knot top speed and the S300CBi trainer (1,750-pound max takeoff weight), equipped with a 180-hp Lycoming HIO-360-G1A and delivering a 648-pound useful load and 94-knot top speed. Estimated prices are $450,000 for the S300C and $410,000 for the S300CBi. Horton estimates that as many as 1,700 Model 300s may be flying and foresees making factory maintenance support a key part of Schweizer’s portfolio.
USA: Foreseeing a day in the not-too-distant future when pilotless helicopters may fly to people in need of rescue, Collins Aerospace’s next generation hoist, the Pegasus, will have the ability to be controlled digitally – even eventually wirelessly. The company anticipates the Pegasus will enter production in 2021 and doesn’t foresee it being used on an autonomous helicopter anytime soon. However, with customers testing autonomous helicopters, such as Sikorsky’s S-70 Black Hawk Optionally Piloted Vehicle, Collins wants to be prepared.
USA: Offshore helicopter operators Bristow Group and ERA Group are to merge, creating a business with a combined $1.5bn turnover and a fleet of over 300 rotorcraft.
USA: At Heli-Expo Robinson displayed three of its products at the Heli-Expo, including the two-seat R44 Cadet trainer, R44 Raven II, and the turbine-powered R66. All three will be equipped with the manufacturer’s new cabin video recorder, which the OEM developed in partnership with Rugged Video. It features a 4K high-resolution camera mounted overhead in the communication box.
USA: Erickson signed a development agreement to integrate its S-64 Air Crane helicopter with Sikorsky’s Matrix autonomous flight control software.
USA: Kaman Air Vehicles, a division of Kaman Corporation, has announced the advancement of its military and commercial K-MAX Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) programs. Kaman continues the development of the next generation of K-MAX UAS to support US Marine Corps future operating concepts.
EUROPE: Airbus Helicopters concluded Heli-Expo 2020 with 38 orders, as well as 20 retrofits for the new five-bladed H145. German air rescue and ambulance provider DRF Luftrettung placed an order for 15 H145s, making them the largest operator of the H145. Shell Aircraft confirmed their interest in using the H160 for offshore transportation missions, and Metro Aviation ordered an additional 12 new EC145e helicopters. Customs and Border Protection will add 16 new H125 helicopters to their fleet, with deliveries beginning later this year.
EUROPE: Airbus received an order for three new H135s from NASA, marking the first-time partnership between the U.S. space program and Airbus Helicopters. The agency will use the aircraft for a variety of missions, including missile launch security at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, emergency medical services and qualified personnel transport.
EUROPE: Reinforcing their commitment to ensuring the highest level of safety available, tourism operator Maverick Helicopters announced it will retrofit its entire fleet of 34 EC130 B4 helicopters with the Airbus Crash Resistant Fuel System. On the support and services side, Airbus secured numerous global support contracts, including Papillon, Heliportugal, and DRF Luftrettung who extended its HCare Smart contract for another eight years.
ITALY: Leonardo has signed a contract with Lynwood (Schweiz) AG to acquire 100% of Kopter Group AG. This move allows Leonardo to further strengthen its worldwide leadership and position in the rotorcraft sector.
ITALY: Leonardo is developing two performance packages for the AW169 medium twin that will increase engine shaft horsepower (SHP), transmission rating, and available payload. The Enhanced and “Superior” performance packs rely on software updates and minor aerodynamic modifications to deliver increased performance. Leonardo expects EASA approval for the packages by the end of 2020 and will make them available on new deliveries and as a retrofit to existing helicopters beginning in 2021.
ITALY: Leonardo update on AW609 tiltrotor training. Jointly developed by Leonardo and CAE at the highest Level D classification, the full flight simulator is nearing completion. Based on the CAE 3000 Series, the simulator will be operated by Rotorsim, the joint venture owned equally by CAE and Leonardo. In order to maximize flexibility, the simulator incorporates a “roll on, roll off” feature designed to allow for a quick interchange between AW609 and AW169 cockpits. Deliveries are expected to reach Leonardo’s training academy in Philadelphia this summer.
FRANCE: Two years after launching the Health Monitoring service that enables customers to track their engines’ health indicator, Safran Helicopter has broaden its service offer. The service now has brand new features such as daily health indicators, in addition to the monthly recommendations, full automation of the engine performance trend follow up, and a newly user-friendly online interface. Safran is reinforcing the service’s customization possibilities to improve the user experience. Today, Health Monitoring already covers 3,200 engines operated by 500 customers.
FRANCE: The French light helicopter manufacturer Helicopteres Guimbal introduced an advanced new payload mount and new cockpit developments. The latest delivered unit of their Cabri G2 was on display at Heli-Expo. The group exhibited the new all-digital cockpit, christened “The Cristal Panel”. It is qualified by Bruno Guimbal, company president and CEO, who said: “The shortest way to modern, large IFR commercial helicopters.”
SWITZERLAND: Kopter Group’s Pre-Series 4 (PS4), expected to fly by mid-year, will incorporate the “representative” final design of the company’s new, clean-sheet single-engine SH09 helicopter. Kopter revealed the features of the design at Heli-Expo via a full-scale mockup in seven-passenger configuration with 3D animations for other mission packages. Kopter’s HAI exhibit will also enable pilots to test the virtual reality (VR)-based training system in development by VRM.
SWITZERLAND: Kopter, which has just been acquired by Leonardo is still awaiting joint EASA/FAA certification for the carbon composite SH09 which is due by the end of 2020. Meanwhile, the Swiss manufacturer has signed multiple contracts throughout the show. Utility operator Rainer Heli International has decided to fully commit to their initial contract by buying 5 vehicles (initial contract was signed on March 2018, it included 9 firm orders with 5 options). Philippian operator INAEC has also opted for one option.
RUSSIA: Russian Helicopters has begun certification test flights of the Kamov Ka-62 intermediate-twin and intends to complete the activity in 2020. So far, three prototypes of the 6.5t helicopter have flown to confirm its flight characteristics and performance. In addition, Progress is gearing up for serial production of the Ka-62, with the aim of delivering the first examples this year. Russian Helicopters also intends to seek European Union Aviation Safety Agency certification for the type – a rare move for the manufacturer, with only the Ka-32 so far approved by the body.
QATAR: Gulf Helicopters of Qatar, a major force in the offshore transport sector and an established AW139 and AW189 operator, will introduce the AW189K into service in the second half of 2020. The AW189 has already demonstrated it is one of the Company’s most successful models through its sales, deliveries and flight hours.
Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.