Helo makers find market in Iran

 - January 30, 2007, 10:39 AM

Exhibitors at January’s Iran Airshow 2005 indicated that the market for civilian helicopters in the Islamic Republic is growing. Local and foreign manufacturers and lessor companies reported a steady growth of the helicopter market.

The Iranian industry has been performing repair and overhaul on Bell 205s, 212s and 412s since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. After the revolution, Iran AirCraft Industries (SAHA) expanded the scope of its activities into manufacturing local copies of those models.

Another Iranian company, Esfahan-based Aviation Industries Research Center (AIRC), recently developed the Shahed-278, a lightweight helicopter that resembles the Bell models. Iran’s Civil Aviation Authorities will issue a type certificate for the helicopter once it completes its flight-test program. The company reports orders for 15 Shahed-278s from undisclosed customers.

Aviation Industries Research Center describes the Shahed-278 as a purely civilian design. Preparations for production are nearly complete at the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Co. (HESA), which has supplied parts for the three development prototypes AIRC has built and flown so far. Helicopters are not new territory for HESA; the company was established in 1964 as the Iran Helicopter Co., to service and repair Bell rotorcraft.

The first Shahed-278 prototype flew in 2001. A second, in which LCDs replace the analog instruments, followed three years later. Both are powered by a single Rolls-Royce 250-C20 turboshaft. Although the engine proved sufficient, production models will have the more powerful C20B/C version.

With an empty equipped weight of 1,504 pounds and mtow of 3,201 pounds, the Shahed-278 has a maximum speed of 123 knots and a climb rate of nearly 2,800 fpm. The five-seat helicopter has a range of 324 nm.

The Shahed-278 is the center’s second design after the Shahed-274, which flew in 1998. Although the developer claims the Shahed-274 was technically successful,
the customer did not accept the helicopter and demanded that the company increase seating capacity from two to three or four. Thus was born the Shahed-278, which inherited the engine and elements of the gearbox and rotor systems.

Tehran-based Turbine Engine Manufacturing (TEM) is working on a domestic engine solution for the Shahed-278. It can either be a “reverse-engineered” derivative of the Rolls-Royce engine or Ukraine’s ZMKB Progress AI450. The latter is intended for the Kamov Ka-226 and the Kazan Ansat. Bench testing of several examples begun in December 2003 continues. TEM already produces the Klimov/ Progress TV3-117VMA-SBM1 (for the locally made An-140 turboprop airliner) and is negotiating on the AI450.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions that prevent U.S. companies from exporting products to Iran. The sanctions also preclude non-U.S. manufacturers from exporting to Iran if U.S.-made content exceeds 10 percent. Since the European Union does not impose restrictions on sales of civil products to Iran, Eurocopter and AgustaWestland market their products in the country, but the U.S. sanctions restrict the Europeans’ offerings to just a few models.

AgustaWestland is marketing its A109 in the country but has not yet logged any sales. “Iran is a big country that potentially needs hundreds of helicopters,” said a company spokesman. Potential markets for the helicopter are offshore operations, VIP travel, oil industry support and medical evacuation.

Eurocopter is well represented in Iran. Last year it won the state tender to supply three AS 365N3 Dauphins outfitted for search-and-rescue and maritime surveillance. Those helicopters, scheduled to be delivered next year, will be the first Dauphins in the nation.

The AS 365N3 competed with Kamov’s Ka-32A, AVIC2’s Z-9 and AgustaWestland’s A109 for the contract. The Dauphins will perform search-and-rescue duties off Iran’s Persian Gulf coast. Eurocopter hopes for follow-on orders from companies specializing in offshore operations, medical evacuation and geological survey.

Like the Dauphin, Eurocopter’s AS 350 Ecureuil series is beyond the scope of the U.S. embargo. Last year Iran’s Ministry of Industry and Mines took delivery of an AS 350B3 to use for geological survey. The manufacturer also delivered six AS 350B3s to the Ministry of Oil for Helicopter Services Organization, which is using the new models to supplement its two AS 350B2s, the first French-made helicopters delivered to Iran after the Islamic Revolution under 2000 and 2002 deals.

Eurocopter also provides support for the Alouette IIIs and BO 105s operators acquired before the revolution that remain operational with civilian organizations. A total of 30 of these aging types remain airworthy and operate mostly with Helicopter Services Organization.

Eurocopter estimates Iran’s total demand for civil helicopters to be 100 to 150 units during the next two or three years. Today, the Iranian civil inventory contains some 120 aging machines of U.S. and European origin, of which fewer than half are airworthy.

As a result, small commercial Iranian operators hire helicopters from neighboring Gulf states, most often the United Arab Emirates, for offshore and oil industry support work.

Eurocopter predicts that the Dauphin will be the best-selling helicopter in the nation in the years ahead, but the Iranians prefer the less-expensive Mi-17s to the Super Pumas, while the Ecureuil will probably become less attractive when the indigenous Shahed-278 becomes available.

Russian-built Helicopters
Early last month, Kazan Helicopters delivered three VK2500-powered Mi-17V5s configured for medical evacuation to the Iran Red Cross. The helicopters were originally scheduled to be delivered next year. Kazan recently sold another Mi-17V5 to Iranian commercial airline Navid Air through an agent.

Iran currently operates nearly 60 Mi-8/17-series helicopters, but most of those are in service with the military units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Deliveries began in 1998 and continue from the second Mi-17 line at Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant, with some machines finding civilian applications. Iranian commercial operators such as Navid Air have purchased as many as a dozen Mi-8/17s from the used market.
Navid Air is considering acquiring some Ansats, said managing director S.M. Azin. However, it is unclear whether Russian-made copies of the P&WC PW207K, which powers the Ansat, are subject to the U.S. embargo. The Ansat can also use AI450s, but a suitable version is not yet ready.

Navid Air and Ulan-Ude have reached an agreement about local repair and overhaul for the Mi-8/17 series. Navid has recently overhauled an Mi-17 at the SAHA plant at Rayam Airport with the help of Russian technicians. Azin considers this “experiment” a success and is developing plans for a local support and maintenance base for Russian-made helicopters, including military Mi-17s.

Russian manufacturer Kamov also has a presence in Iran, with small private companies operating six Ka-32S/Ts. The company hopes to sell Ka-32As to PSC and other civil entities as demand grows for offshore operations, exploration of oil fields and other applications.