The year since Heli-Expo 2004 has not been a bad one for the helicopter industry, all things considered. The industry put on a confident face at Heli-Expo in March last year, with companies logging a record number of deals at the show. Bell announced its intention to claw back market share from Eurocopter and within 48 hours had taken walk-up orders for 11 copies of the just-launched IFR version of its 427 light twin.
At July’s Farnborough Air Show, many helicopter OEMs were conspicuous by their absence. In contrast, AgustaWestland, on the eve of becoming a wholly Italian-owned operation, fielded the most models of any manufacturer–fixed or rotary-wing–at the event. It even unveiled a new model: a growth variant of the A109 known as the “Grand.”
The European companies demonstrated that they are in the U.S. to stay with the fall opening of two new facilities. Eurocopter unveiled its new manufacturing plant near Columbus, Miss., where it may one day build the AStar family (including the TwinStar and EC 130) from the ground up. Almost simultaneously, AgustaWestland expanded its Philadelphia operation to include the assembly of A119 Koalas for the North American market.