Russia “hearts” helicopters. That was the message from the Moscow-based Helicopter Industry Association of Russia (HIAR) at its press conference at Heli-Expo 2011 yesterday.
Four of Russia’s leading helicopter operators: UTair, Vertical-T, Pahn Helicopters and Aviashelf provided proof with a snapshot of their operations, opportunities and challenges.
Mamed Kasumov of UTair, Russia’s largest civilian helicopter operator with some 250 rotorcraft in its fleet said, “Our message to HAI is that UTair Aviation will continue as a global operator and will be offering not only Russian-built but Western-built helicopters.”
Indeed, the company already operates several Eurocopters and signed a contract at Heli-Expo to buy 15 EC175s. Kasumov said the company is in purchasing negotiations with AgustaWestland and Robinson Helicopter. UTair has subsidiaries in Europe, South Africa, India and Peru and annual revenues in excess of $1.5 billion.
Vertical-T, based outside of Moscow, is also a global operator, and is currently targeting opportunities in Alaska, Australia, Indonesia and Latin America, according to deputy director Lyudmila Baraney. The company has a fleet of 25 rotorcraft, including an Mi-26, capable of lifting up to 20 tons.
Recently Vertical-T rescued a U.S. CH-47 Chinook and a Super Puma shot down in Afghanistan. “We got a personal thank you note from President Obama” after the Chinook rescue, Baraney said.
Viktor Aksyutin, general director of Aviashelf, formed in 1998 to support gas projects on Sakhalin Island on Russia’s east coast, today also provides transportation to remote areas and performs EMS, SAR and forest firefighting missions. Aksyutin spotlighted the company’s newest capability: aerial seeding, performed with seeding equipment designed by the company. (The major shareholder in the company, which operates Mi-8MTV-1 and Mi-8t helicopters, is the Bristow Group.)
Oleg Khudolenko, deputy director general of Pahn Helicopters, based in southern Russia, noted the need for unified regulations, as well as better cooperation in adopting them, as recent experience with international standards made clear. “After the adoption of these documents, problems appeared,” he said. “Some provisions are of low quality, and these problems could be prevented if we had a dialog with [international] colleagues at the stage of adoption.”
Khudolenko also suggested that western helicopter manufacturers that want to sell aircraft in Russia would do well to set up maintenance and service centers in the country.
That message is not lost on Giuseppe Orsi, CEO of AgustaWestland (AW). At the press conference, Orsi was given HIAR’s annual medal for contributions to the Russian helicopter industry, for the joint-production facility the company established in Moscow with Oboronprom to build AW139 helicopters. The factory is scheduled to begin operations this summer. “We can be competitive and we can be collaborative,” Orsi said in accepting the award. “The Russian market is very important, and we decided to produce our crown jewel, our 139, in Russia in a joint venture.”
Muscovite Michael Farikh provided a private pilot’s perspective on helicopter flying in Russia. “After the Soviet Union crashed, aerodromes were closed. We have nine time zones and only 338 aerodromes,” he said, noting that leaves very few places for fixed-wing operations, “so I think the Russian market is wide open for helicopters.”