Heli Expo PrevOptimism as high as ever for next month’s showiew

 - January 24, 2007, 7:23 AM

Organizers of this year’s Heli-Expo helicopter show in Orlando hope they can duplicate some of the magic of their business aviation counterparts at the National Business Aviation Association, who hosted a record NBAA Convention in the same city less than four months ago. If the success of last year’s Heli-Expo in Dallas is any indication, the Helicopter Association International could set a new attendance record of its own next month.

After several anemic years in which the rotorcraft industry languished in the doldrums of a recession, last year’s Heli-Expo show signaled a strong resurgence for the industry. If sales are the standard by which the success of an aviation trade show is measured, Heli-Expo 2006 was an unqualified triumph, with announced helicopter sales contracts tallying more than $620 million among all the major manufacturers. The show, held last February, also set a record for attendance, with 14,051 registered visitors.

A strengthening economy combined with increased demand for helicopters from the offshore oil, police, EMS and homeland-security sectors bodes well for the rotorcraft community on the eve of Heli-Expo 2007, scheduled for March 1 to 3 inside Central Florida’s Orange County Convention Center. Helicopter OEMs and suppliers alike will be looking to capitalize on the current buying climate, which insiders say is as good as it has ever been.

“The demand is unprecedented,” said Paul Pitts, director of homeland security sales for Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, Texas. “The pipeline for new orders is strong, especially in the law enforcement segment,” he said, adding that Bell hopes to double its sales volume this year.

The annual industry forecasts from engine makers Honeywell and Rolls-Royce support the anecdotal evidence that the rotorcraft industry is strong and getting stronger, but this could be the last year for the heady optimism that exists today.

Honeywell in its last turbine-powered civil helicopter purchase outlook predicted that sales of new models would continue to climb through the end of this year and then begin to level out as demand drops off next year. According to the survey, released at last year’s Heli-Expo, the rotorcraft industry is anticipated to remain more or less in a hover between 2008 until around 2011, when sales are expected to begin picking up again.

Rolls-Royce’s forecast closely matches Honeywell’s predictions, but the British engine maker noted that deliveries of military helicopters in the years ahead will significantly boost manufacturers’ bottom lines. All told, OEMs were expected to build nearly 11,000 helicopters between this time last year and 2015, with roughly half of them going to civilian buyers.

We’ll find out next month if Honeywell and Rolls-Royce see fit to revise last year’s predictions as a result of events over the past 12 months. The good news is that even with a dip in sales, deliveries are expected to remain strong for the next several years as manufacturers work overtime to fulfill orders already on the books.

Show Planning Well Under Way

HAI says the exhibit hall for Heli-Expo 2007 is filling up quickly, with most of the available space already reserved. In a repeat of last year, Bell Helicopter and Eurocopter will field the biggest presences on the convention center floor. The competitors’ identically sized exhibits are positioned adjacent to one another.
Visitors to last year’s show might remember that then-neighbors Bell and
Sikorsky had scheduled lavish show-floor events for exactly the same time slot. Because Bell’s big announcement (the unveiling of the Bell 417 medium twin) featured Cirque dancers spiraling down from the rafters, dramatic lighting and music and, consequently, a bigger crowd, Sikorsky had no choice but to delay its event by about 20 minutes.

Bell will likely be staging another big event at this year’s Heli-Expo, if recent shows are a harbinger of what’s to come next month. The company has been focused on regaining market share lost to Eurocopter. Ever since CEO Mike Redenbaugh took over two years ago the strategy has included a quick succession of new model introductions and high-profile appearances for Bell not only at the annual Heli-Expo show but also on the world stage, first at the Paris Air Show in 2005 and then again at the Farnborough show in England last summer, where Bell spent a small fortune to stand out in the crowd.

Eurocopter hasn’t officially launched an all-new model since it shocked the rotorcraft world in 2001 by announcing the EC 130 at Heli-Expo, complete with freshly signed certification papers. Given the French manufacturer’s proclivity for secrecy and the length of time since its last new-model introduction, a helicopter debut at this year’s Heli-Expo could be in the offing.

The manufacturer announced last year that it plans to develop the civil EC 175 with China’s AVIC II to fill a niche between the Dauphin and Super Puma. It also said recently that it has joined forces with AgustaWestland to develop quiet-helicopter technology. This so-called Friendcopter concept aims to reduce the acoustic footprint of the aircraft by as much as 50 percent and lower interior cabin noise to that of a luxury automobile (albeit a luxury car traveling at wide-open, autobahn speeds).

Forums and Workshops Planned

As always, HAI has lined up a number of experts for a series of forums and workshops throughout the show. Educational courses planned for before and immediately after Heli-Expo are designed specifically for helicopter professionals. The first courses kick off a full five days before the show opens and include a jam-packed schedule of courses targeting a variety of important subjects.

Returning this year after its successful debut at Heli-Expo 2006 will be “Coping with Crisis 101–Managing an Aviation Disaster.” Taught by Steve Bassett, president and CEO of the Communications Workshop, the course covers effective crisis management planning and disaster response, including handling of the media, in the event of a helicopter crash. HAI will also host a safety symposium on February 28 and a Safety Committee Town Hall Meeting the following morning.

During the show, HAI plans to host a job fair and a helicopter manufacturer CEO forum, as well as a variety of symposiums dealing with issues from heliport construction to special operating procedures. Suppliers will hold a number of maintenance and operations sessions the first two days of the show.   

AINtv Coming to Heli-Expo

For the first time ever at a Heli-Expo, a team of reporters, producers and camera crew will be on hand, covering the show with video news broadcasts each morning. Viewers can log on and watch the segments by visiting AINtv.com beginning on March 1.

Featuring the latest product announcements, forecast news and video tours of some of the most popular helicopters at the show, the broadcasts are a great way for pilots and other industry professionals to keep up with all the latest developments if they can’t travel to Orlando for Heli-Expo.

Launched last fall at the NBAA Convention, the video news service complements AIN’s other news offerings available during aviation trade conventions and airshows. They include AINalerts, the e-mail newsletter that will be sent to more than 31,000 subscribers during Heli-Expo, and AINonline.com, the online home of AIN, where readers can view stories published each morning in our sister magazine, HAI Convention News.