The air-medical market just keeps on reaping benefits for the world’s No. 1 producer of civil helicopters.
After delivering 60 EC 135s and four EC 635s last year, Eurocopter (Booth No. 2049) has announced an increase in production of its EC 135 line by 20 percent to 72 units for 2005. The increase comes after a sharp rise in sales to the emergency medical service (EMS) market, which accounted for two-thirds of all EC 135 deliveries in 2004.
“Last year was one of American Eurocopter’s busiest and most exciting years in EMS sales,” said Terri Ragsdale, air-medical marketing specialist for American Eurocopter. “We received 28 bookings for the EC 135 alone.”
Ten of the EC 135s sold last year are slated for delivery to CJ Systems Group, one of the largest EMS fleet operators in the U.S. with 110 helicopters (of which 76 are Eurocopters) providing air support to 80 different hospital-based EMS units.
“We’ve found that the Eurocopter EC 135 offers the most effective air-medical service [AMS] solution on the market,” said CJ Systems senior vice president Ed Marasco. “Although it’s not the largest AMS aircraft available, it seems to be the right size for meeting our customers’ mission profiles.”
Eurocopter has made 116 certified upgrades to the EC 135 in the past year, including an improved rotor brake, new weather radar, Iridium satellite telephone capability, fixed landing lights, an improved passenger service unit and sand erosion protection for the main rotor blades. Reducing direct maintenance costs for EC 135 operators, it has eliminated 50- and 100-hour inspections, reduced the workload at 400- and 800-hour inspections and will finish a 4,000-hour TBO verification program for the main rotor gearbox by the end of this year.
EC 145 Sales Brisk, Too
Sales of the single-pilot-IFR-certified EC 145 have also been relatively brisk with a total of 59 units delivered. Since its introduction to the American market at Heli-Expo 2004, five North American EMS operators have ordered EC 145s, including CJ Systems, which ordered two.
“The EC 145 is a larger platform–even when converted to an AMS interior–that provides more range and more patient/payload carrying capacity,” said Marasco. “It is able to meet those mission profiles that require more equipment, more patient capacity and longer distances.”
While EMS operators tend to favor the EC 135/145, law enforcement agencies are favoring Eurocopter’s AS 350B2 and B3 AStar models. Equipped with an 847-shp Turbomeca Arriel 2B engine with FADEC, the AStar B3 can lift full loads in adverse high-altitude conditions, endearing it to law enforcement agencies that need lift capability. For example, the San Bernardino (Calif.) County Sheriff’s Department, whose territory extends approximately 20,000 square miles, operates a fleet of nine helicopters ranging from EC 120s to MD 600N Notars and Bell UH-1 Hueys and has just ordered three AS 350B3s, with plans to purchase three more in the next
“Much of our territory is desert; some of it contains mountain ranges that stand as high as 11,400 feet,” said Capt. Toby Tyler, commander of the San Bernadino Sheriff’s Aviation Division. “With the B3s in service, we’ll be able to search for stranded hikers whatever their location and hoist them out to safety on the hottest of days.”
Tyler said that the AStars will also carry firefighting hoist buckets as standard equipment during fire season. “Imagine being able to get water on a fire within a few minutes of spotting it,” he said. “Given our problems with wildfires, this could make a real difference to our citizens and environment.”
Eurocopter also added another new law enforcement customer to its roster when the Phoenix Police Air Support Unit, one of the nation’s oldest police aviation units with more than 32 years of service, received its first AS 350B3 in October. Since the Phoenix unit operates a fleet of seven MD 520N Notar helicopters built in neighboring Mesa, its choice for an eighth unit was significant.
“Our decision to purchase the AS 350B3 was based on price, performance [critical in our hot desert climate], airframe adaptability to patrol missions, direct operating costs and product support,” said Air Support Unit second-in-command Lt. Allen Smith, who also indicated that the OEM’s long-term financial stability and ability to deliver within 180 days of the contract were also considerations. “We are now being provided with a level of customer service that has not been seen around here for many years.”