Government sector boosts Helitech orders

 - October 30, 2009, 8:10 AM

The reformed European Helicopter Association–operating under the acronym newEHA–publicly touched down for the first time at the 2009 Helitech show at Duxford, UK, albeit having had to adopt a slightly revised flight plan. At the 11th hour, the European HEMS and Air Ambulance Committee (EHAC) opted not to merge with newEHA. So the new organization, which had aimed to bring all of Europe’s helicopter associations under one roof, has been formed from the two main groupings–the National Helicopter Associations Committee (NHAC) and the European Helicopter Operators Committee (EHOC). Germany-based EHAC, which in December 2008 signed an agreement to join forces with newEHA, has agreed to continue working with it on a bilateral basis, but has insisted that it needs to retain its independence in the specialist field of emergency medical operations.

In October, newEHA moved into a new office located in Cologne, Germany, close to the headquarters of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This will give newly appointed executive director Gunter Carloff direct access to one of the organization’s main lobbying targets since newEHA continues to be concerned about what it views as EASA’s excessively onerous approach to regulating helicopter operations.

“The rules [EASA’s proposed new operating rules] are too stringent because they are mainly derived from fixed-wing aircraft operations and stop helicopters being used for the specific characteristics that they were designed with,” newERA chairman Vittorio Morassi told AIN.

In his view, the authorities have overlooked the fundamental contributions that helicopters can make to society largely through their inherent flexibility. However, he has been encouraged by a recent EASA announcement that it intends to adopt a lighter touch for some aspects of its new role in regulating aircraft operations, showing more willingness to stick with existing rules. Nonetheless, newEHA members continue to be frustrated by what they see as the inconsistent applications of existing JAR OPS 3 rules in different European states.

“These are still difficult times for the helicopter industry and there have been huge cancellations of orders,” added Morassi, who owns Verona, Italy-based operator Air Corporate. “But there are still signs that this is a good business to be in, especially for operators with public contracts for activities such as emergency medical flights and firefighting. It is the private and corporate sectors that are having the hardest time.”

Helitech Attendance Up

The 2009 Helitech (September 22 to 24) drew slightly more than 4,000 visitors to its 200-plus exhibits. This was an 11-percent increase on the 2007 event. The annual show alternates between the UK and Portugal.

Offshore operator Bristow placed an order for three Agusta-Westland AW139 twins in a contract that includes options for an undisclosed number of additional aircraft of the same type. AgustaWestland’s new DaVinci version of the A109 Grand made its debut at Helitech with launch customer Rega, a Switzerland-based air ambulance group. The new model delivers more power through the main transmission with one engine out and has a more aerodynamic rotor system, contributing to an increased rate of climb and more speed, both of which are important for Rega’s operations in the Alps.

Separately, the manufacturer reported that the first of All Nippon Helicopter’s two new AW139 twins has achieved operational readiness for its role as an electronic news gathering platform for the Japanese National Broadcasting Corporation. At Helitech, Danish operator Bel Air Aviation displayed the new AW139 twin that it has just introduced to its fleet for contracts to carry offshore oil and gas workers to their platforms in the North Sea.

Britain’s West Midlands Police Air Support Unit ordered a new Eurocopter EC 135 to replace an EC 135 that was destroyed in a recent arson attack. The new helicopter will be delivered next summer, and in the meantime Eurocopter is providing the police force with another EC 135, with a full mission pod, to provide temporary cover. Eurocopter gave a UK debut to the version of its EC 135 model that features a special interior designed by French fashion house Hermès. The manufacturer also displayed an entirely different version of the EC 135 configured for its new role with Bond Air Services supporting maintenance crews working on Britain’s new wind energy farms.

Operator Specialist Aviation Services (SAS) signed three new contracts at the show with various UK agencies. The Lincs & Notts Air Ambulance service has chosen the company’s Medical Aviation Services (MAS) subsidiary to provide flights under a 10-year turnkey contract. The service’s MD Helicopters Explorer is to be replaced with a brand new model of the same type.

MAS has also been selected by Essex & Herts Air Ambulance Trust to support an operation with a pair of Explorers. Separately, SAS has been chosen by Trinity House to provide a new Explorer from the end of next year to transport technicians and equipment to remote lighthouses around the English and Welsh coasts.
Sikorsky has developed for its S-92s a new fully coupled and automated approach system that reduces pilot workload and makes it safer to land on offshore platforms in poor weather conditions. With the new platform- finding system, the pilot programs a platform’s current coordinates into the Universal Avionics UNS-1 flight management system and the approach is flown automatically. This avoids the need for some 14 separate pilot actions during a busy phase of flight, reducing total tasks to seven, all of which are done before departure or during cruise.

The new approach has been made possible through software changes but will hinge on aviation authorities’ accepting a process for ensuring that operators are able to get the actual, current location of platforms from a secure database. Sikorsky has been developing the system for about two years and is about to start a flight-test program that will consist of 100 approaches before doing some operational trials with a customer’s oil rigs. It hopes to complete FAA certification by year-end, followed by subsequent approval from the EASA. The company intends to roll out the new system to other Sikor-sky models later. It has yet to announce a price for the upgrade.

The aim is to develop the system to the point that it can get the helicopter down to within a quarter of a mile of the platform with the automated approach. Sikorsky will probably start out by seeking approval for use down to half a mile.