First Heli Trade show meets exhibitors’ expectations

 - December 19, 2007, 5:48 AM

The first edition of the International Heli Trade helicopter show in Geneva last month seems to have met exhibitors’ expectations. Visitors and organizers alike, however, may have been disappointed by the absence of such major manufacturers as Robinson and Eurocopter. But the conference program was rich and, from the first roundtable, it proved a good opportunity for operators to express their needs and concerns.

At 1,231, total attendance during the three-day show, which ran from October 5 to 7, fell short of the organizers’ hopes for 1,500 to 2,000 visitors.

Seventy exhibitors had booths at Palexpo, the exhibition center alongside Geneva Airport that also hosts the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE). Organizers had originally planned to have 15 rotorcraft on static display on the ramp, but several cancellations brought the number to less than an acceptable limit. As a result, this year’s show had no static display.

A quick poll among the exhibitors indicated that they were happy with the show. “The attendance is a bit small in size but good in quality,” two of them told AIN. They were confident that the choice of Geneva is a favorable factor for the show to attract visitors and develop.

Banbury, UK-based International Heli Trade Limited organized the event. It is run by David Wood, managing director, and Moira Edwards, event director. Both are veterans in the trade show business, with former positions at Reed Exhibitions.

The second edition of Heli Trade is scheduled for 2006 in Geneva. Organizers initially planned to make the show an annual event but announced shortly after this year’s inaugural edition that they were changing those plans in response to exhibitor feedback.

Roundtable Discussions
On October 5, a series of conferences started with a roundtable at which operators could express their concerns to European Helicopter Association (EHA) and Helicopter Association International (HAI) officials. The first question raised by an operator was that of commercial night VFR flights.

Georgios Prentzas, training manager at Greek-based Helix, expressed his frustration with rules that prohibit all but EMS and military flights at night between the country’s 200-odd islands. Jan Willem Stuurman, EHA’s chief executive, agreed that modern helicopters do have capacities for such operations. “The issue of night single-engine VFR flights is making progress at the International Civil Aviation Organization,” he added.

Walter Stünzi, in charge of public relations at Swiss air rescue operator Rega, pointed out the difference in philosophy between the U.S. and the European authorities about single-engine operations. In the late 1980s, he recalled, the JAA took a firm stand on twin-turbine helicopters for commercial operations, including EMS.

“But reality never came close to regulation, notably with many old single-engine helicopters remaining in service,” he said. This, added to the safety record of single-engine helicopters and the fact that other countries allow night flights with single-engine helicopters, suggests the need for an update of the European regulation, according to Stünzi. “Will the rule evolve?” he asked. His question remained open. “It will take time; European regulators will first need to get exhaustive feedback on modern single-engine aircraft operations,” said Siegfried Sobotta, chairman of the EHA and a former co-chairman at Eurocopter.

The roundtable forum allowed discussion of other topics as well. Prentzas asked about the use of night vision goggles (NVGs). Rega crews regularly use NVGs but they remain an exception among civil operators. EHA is studying this topic, Stuurman said, adding that the association is gathering information to pass to the EASA.

Charles Chung, director of regulations and international affairs at HAI, mentioned that the Part 135 committee has discussed the use of NVGs. The current status of the debate is to propose that NVGs would improve visibility only when naked-eye visibility minimums are met.

A U.S.-based operator asserted that he found current anti- and deicing systems inadequate. Sobotta acknowledged that current technologies are not really affordable. “We have to simplify and standardize today’s systems to make them lighter and cheaper,” he said.

Stuurman also stressed the importance of regulation harmonization for helicopter operators. In that regard, “The creation of the EASA is progress–a rule is a rule, with no possible national variant or delay,” Stuurman noted. Chung agreed that the EASA’s recently acquired operational status is good news.