Eurocopter Tallies Sales at Air Med Conference

 - October 21, 2011, 10:45 AM
Leasing company Milestone Aviation purchased five Eurocopter EC130s.

American Eurocopter built on its lead in the U.S. medevac market by announcing more than two dozen new helicopter sales this month at the  Air Medical Transport Conference (AMTC) in St. Louis. The company announced the sale of 26 helicopters–10 singles and 16 twins–at the event. “This was a solid showing for our company,” said American Eurocopter president Marc Paganni. Many of the sales were to existing customers, leasing companies or resellers.

The singles included five EC130s for helicopter leasing company Milestone Aviation, four AS350 B3es for the Air Medical Resources Group, and one AS350 B3 for EagleMed. Eurocopter’s light and medium twins continue to be popular with established operators, especially those already flying those models. Sales of six EC135 light twins were announced; Helicopter Marketing Associates took three, and the remainder went to an undisclosed customer. However, the company’s most popular seller at the show was the EC145 medium twin, with 10 orders announced–four were sold to OSF Aviation, three to Sanford Health, two to Duke Life Flight and one to Allegheny LifeFlight.

Single-engine Sales

New single-engine helicopters have been gaining popularity with operators looking to cut costs.

The AS350 B3 is the 13th A-Star for Wichita-based EagleMed, a subsidiary of Air Medical Group Holdings. The company operates 24 aircraft, including the A-Stars and 11 Hawker Beechcraft King Airs.

The Air Medical Resource Group (AMRG) order for four AS350 B3e helicopters consists of converted options of a larger deal announced at last year’s Heli-Expo and will bring that company’s fleet of B3e aircraft to seven. AMRG is the parent company of Eagle Air Med, Hawaii Life Flight, Gallup Med Flight and Guardian Flight. The helicopters will be used to expand market coverage in their primary operating areas. The AS350 B3e is the latest evolution of the AStar series and was announced earlier this year. The helicopter features a more powerful 950-shp Turbomeca Arriel 2D turboshaft engine, along with a new-generation digital Fadec (full authority digital engine control) and an engine data recorder for condition monitoring.

Milestone’s $17 million order for five new EC130B4s illustrates the company’s willingness to diversify from its core oil-and-gas customer base into air medical transport. It also shows the helicopter’s growing popularity in the medevac market–due primarily to cabin size and its low noise signature. American Eurocopter initially promoted the helicopter for the air-tour market, and two years ago began aggressively marketing it to medevac operators. The helicopter features a Turbomeca Arriel 2B1 turbine engine with Fadec digital engine controls, Starflex main rotor and Fenestron tail rotor. Deliveries will take place in next year’s second half.

Market for Twins

Cabin size continues to be the main driver of EC145 sales. Duke University Hospital’s Life Flight ordered two EC145s to replace a pair of EC135 T2s it currently flies that are operated by Air Methods. Duke Life Flight, North Carolina’s first hospital-based helicopter service, has been providing emergency air transport since 1985. The program’s coverage area includes all of North Carolina, as well as portions of South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. “We have been happy with our leased EC135s, but have decided to invest in the long-term sustainability of our program and purchase the EC145s,” said Henry Ward, administrative director at Duke Life Flight. “The EC145 has a much larger cabin, which is important for the type of specialized equipment we carry, plus it allows us to load a full-size stretcher and have head-to-toe access to our patients.” The EC145s also will allow Duke to expand its current 200-nm coverage area.

Range also was a consideration in Sanford Health’s decision to order three EC145s to cover its sprawling territory in North and South Dakota. The first EC145 will be in service in Sioux Falls by year-end. The other two will be put into service in the Fargo division next year.

Geographically, Sanford is the largest rural not-for-profit health care system in the nation and is the largest employer in North and South Dakota.

The West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS) is another provider with a large service area, and at AMTC it ordered a fifth EC145 for its LifeFlight Program. LifeFlight already operates four EC145s and the additional aircraft on order is part of a plan to standardize its fleet. LifeFlight’s service area covers western Pennsylvania, southeastern Ohio and portions of West Virginia and Maryland. Its helicopters fill the role of air ambulances, inter-hospital transports for patients and flying intensive care units. The program flies an estimated 2,500 missions annually. LifeFlight has completed more than 60,000 missions in the four-state area to date.

Safety Awards

In addition to the new orders, American Eurocopter announced the winner of its annual “Vision Zero” safety award and a $250,000 contribution to the MedEvac Foundation. Milwaukee-based “Flight for Life” (FFL) received the Vision Zero award and a $10,000 check that accompanied it. The independent panel making the award cited a variety of safety initiatives and practices at FFL. These include FFL’s operating its own communications center; “four to go and one to say no” policy; preflight check by all crewmembers; base-specific yearly downed aircraft drills; design and development of an inexpensive egress trainer; and education, designation and utilization of a tail rotor guard on all scene responses.

The panel also cited as best practices FFL’s mandatory combined base shift briefings, online documentation of safety issues and their resolutions, base-specific and program-wide multi-disciplinary safety committees, safety training developed specifically for fire/EMS/law enforcement/hospital security and dispatch personnel, distribution of personal protective eyewear and hearing protection to fire/EMS/hospital security personnel and education of customers and the community on the dangers of laser strikes to an aircraft.

American Eurocopter’s $250,000 contribution to the MedEvac Foundation includes $200,000 in cash over four years, as well as $50,000 worth of simulator time at American Eurocopter’s Training Center in Grand Prairie, Texas.