Kamov plans tech support expansion

 - September 27, 2006, 5:27 AM

Russia’s Kamov Holding Company plans to export more of its Ka-32 workhorses to the West, said Igor Pshenichny, the company’s sales director and deputy director general, during an exclusive interview in Moscow. He told AIN that, before the end of the winter, the OEM will establish a second overseas service center with Helisureste, which is headquartered near Alicante on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

By then Kamov will also have delivered two more of the twins to the Spanish operator, bringing its firefighting Kamov fleet to six. “Four more will follow by 2008. The Ka-32 already holds Canadian, Korean, Mexican, Spanish, Swiss and Taiwanese aerial work approvals and in 2006 we will start the process of seeking European certification for the aircraft,” Pshenichny said.

Next summer, the older aircraft in Helisureste’s fleet will come to the end of their flying-hour-based warranty periods, and Kamov has already signed a maintenance contract, which is broadly a power-by-the-hour arrangement. At around the same time, Spain’s Alicante will become the service center for the type, the first in western Europe.

The Russian company established its first center at Seoul Gimpo Airport in South Korea last month to cater to a potential fleet of as many as 100 Kamovs, supported by distributor LG International in Seoul.

Helisureste technical director Aurelio Martinez Pillet is leading his company’s efforts to prepare for this new role. He told AIN that his first priority is to build up the company’s spares inventory–from its current $500,000 value to around $2 million.

“As we do that, we are asking Kamov to increase the useful life and service intervals of its small components while, with its help, we improve our line and scheduled maintenance capabilities. We will also further develop our overhaul and repair capacity for larger assemblies.”

The Spanish facility will introduce a new level of Kamov product support, according to Pshenichny. Improved OEM backup, including English-language service manuals, will be available to other international customers, such as Berne, Switzerland-based Heliswiss, which uses its two Ka-32s principally for delicate construction tasks during the short Alpine summer. In both cases, should a particular repair or overhaul job be beyond the capability of local licensed engineers, Russian technicians will be available for swift deployment.

Swiss operations notwithstanding, firefighting will remain the Ka-32’s main mission in Europe; Spain’s government recently recognized the type as its principal rotary-wing asset in the official follow-up response to serious fires (defined as those covering more than 1,235 acres). Neighbor Portugal, which also depends on helicopters to hold back summer fires, is said to be a potential customer for the Russian workhorses.

Similar contracts are being negotiated farther east, in Cyprus and Turkey. Leased Ka-32s are also in Greece, and some 40 are already flying in South Korea on utility and coast guard duties.

AOG Support

Vancouver, British Columbia-based VIH Logging became the first overseas customer of the Ka-32 when founder Ken Norie first took an interest back in 1992.

The bulk of customer support activity will continue to be provided from Russia, so what if one of the Vancouver company’s airframes goes AOG? How soon can Kamov respond? Says service center director Ilia Kozlowsky, “It of course depends on the exact nature of the problem.

“However, typically the whole process takes about five days. Each operator carries a consignment of critical spares–engine, gearboxes, rotor blades and so on–that is designed to cover most eventualities. But we are there to support aircraft over their whole life. Firefighting and logging often demand intensive periods of flying, and our task is to prepare the aircraft during the quiet times, for minimum downtime during their busiest seasons. So far, we’ve delivered 100-percent availability.”

Pshenichny accepts that Russian helicopter manufacturers have not always enjoyed the highest reputation for technical support. “But that is now changing. We are establishing a commercial business model and investing a lot of time and money to develop a world-class technical support and maintenance service.”

Kamov is now mostly owned by Oboronprom, an umbrella organization formed to market Mil and certain Kazan models, and Pshenichny predicted that Russian types will now be a practical option for western operators looking for utility and even public-transport helicopters.

While Kamov is content to restrict the Ka-32 to the utility market (it is not currently certified to carry passengers, including aerial workers), it sees the smaller Ka-226 as a multi-role type with a commercial future in, among other functions, EMS and passenger-carrying roles. It features a replaceable cabin module and the OEM claims that reconfiguring the helicopter from an air ambulance interior to a passenger layout takes only 40 minutes.

The Ka-226 can carry up to eight passengers, two litters plus attendants or (with the cabin module removed) a 2,860-pound slung load. Serial production started in 2004 and, convinced of its potential, Kamov quality director Shamil Souleimanov said the company will seek FAA certification this year and offer customer-tailored module content.

Health and usage monitoring systems, now a requirement of many oil companies when flying their staff aboard large transport helicopters, are finding their way onto Russian rotorcraft as well. Mi-8s being operated by a Bristow Helicopters joint venture on Sakalin Island, to the north of Japan, employ a western package developed by the Central Institute for Aero Motors in Moscow. (A rotor track and balance capability for the main rotor was provided by Meggitt Avionics.) Kamov said it is ready to respond to customer demand for this feature.

A Model for the West

Progress in the civil market for Kamov products has certainly tipped the military/ civil production balance in its favor. One result of that swing is that attention is belatedly being paid to its newest model, the Ka-115. Another contra-rotating rotor design with a single engine and a 372- to 434-mile range, it otherwise looks much more “western” yet is aimed squarely at the domestic market.

A full-size mockup of the new single-pilot helicopter was displayed at Moscow’s airshow this summer. The company is now looking for private investors to help it progress to the metal-cutting stage. In its favor is a burgeoning growth in private Russian utility companies that need such a helicopter for inspecting power lines and pipelines; the established Mi-8 is more expensive to operate and requires three crewmembers.