The annual Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo–at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston February 21 to 23–opens at a time of continued uncertainty about the direction of the global economy. Last year, the buzz at the show revolved around how fortunate the helicopter industry was because its members serve such diverse users, including commercial, corporate, government and military customers. Backlogs at helicopter manufacturers were still growing or stable and all boded well for the industry.
This year, however, there are increasing concerns, especially about the U.S. economy, which has been unable to address persistently high unemployment, home foreclosures, shaky financial companies and ongoing battles over health-care legislation.
Issues that are taking center stage for helicopter manufacturers include managing
shrinking cash flows and sales as economic uncertainty lingers. Added to the economic pressure are proposed new rules tightening regulations for helicopter emergency medical services, which could bring new equipment requirements that drive up costs and force some consolidation among operators. The previously immune government sector has seen dramatic drops in tax revenues due to lower property values, unemployment and projected budget shortfalls well into the future.
On a brighter note, some manufacturers will arrive at Heli-Expo with news about new rotorcraft programs that are finally bearing fruit. Bell’s 429 is now certified and deliveries are under way, while Eurocopter flew the EC175 twin for the first time on December 4. Sikorsky’s new S-76D is slated for certification later this year. On the single-engine side, the action is all in the turbine-powered segment. Robinson’s new R66 should be certified in the first half of this year, while kit manufacturer RotorWay has entered the certified market with the Eagle 300T. Both the R66 and Eagle are powered by Rolls-Royce’s new RR300. Sikorsky also has a single-engine helicopter nearly ready for certification this year, the S-434, which is derived from the Sikorsky-Schweizer 333. (For more details on these helicopter programs, see the new rotorcraft report on page 44.)
Sikorsky was scheduled to launch a new technology-creation business called Sikorsky Innovations on February 1. The effort involves Sikorsky’s research and engineering teams and a network of academic institutions and business partners creating “game-changing technologies that will define the future of vertical flight.”
This technology will include ways of doubling helicopter speed, according to Sikorsky, which probably refers to the X2 research program.
At Bell Helicopter’s XworX advanced projects lab, research is under way on fly-by-wire sidestick controls that will improve safety in degraded visual environments such as night landings on offshore oil platforms, brown-out clouds or night landings without external light cues. Other XworX efforts include a new line of rotor blades and heads and advancements in electrical, hydraulic and avionics systems in partnership with suppliers.
American Eurocopter is stepping up its product support efforts and has already seen improvements from the new Customer Service Fleet Operations Center opened last year at the company’s headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas. A new dedicated AOG center brings together everyone involved in taking care of customer problems, and one result has been 91-percent on-time delivery for AOG orders.
To help improve reliability and lower maintenance costs, Sikorsky Aerospace’s Helicopter Support division signed a memorandum of understanding with Goodrich. The two companies are highlighting a partnership to offer Goodrich’s health and usage monitoring systems (Hums) to the helicopter industry. Goodrich’s sensors and integrated systems division makes the Hums, and Helicopter Support will install and support the systems. Hums monitors mechanical performance and delivers predictive maintenance features to help identify problems before they cause failures.
Cobham’s recent receipt of FAA technical standard order approval of its HeliSas stability augmentation system and autopilot will no doubt be featured at the company’s Heli-Expo display. Cobham plans next to certify HeliSas on the Bell 206, 407 and TH-57 and Eurocopter AS350.
Spurred by new safety efforts in the emergency medical services segment, the helicopter industry is rapidly embracing enhanced vision system (EVS) technology. Max-Viz will exhibit its uncooled infrared sensor EVS-1500 as well as the lower-cost EVS-100 and -500 systems for piston helicopters.
Engine manufacturer Turbo-meca is promoting its Tech 600 and 800 demonstrator programs, which it says will propel helicopter engines into new standards of fuel efficiency in the 500- to 1,000-shp category and increased power density in 1,000- to 1,500-shp engines.
Donaldson comes to Heli-Expo with a new inlet barrier filter (IBF) system certification under its belt. The IBF will help Bell 430 operators lengthen engine life, due to the system’s ability to exclude all types of sand from entering the engine.
It’s always encouraging to see new companies choose to exhibit at Heli-Expo, and first-time exhibitor Granitize Aviation International is one of them. Granitize is offering Heli-Expo attendees a 50-percent discount on three introductory helicopter exterior-finish cleaning kits. Kits are available for heavy, medium and light exterior paint oxidation and include oxidation cleaner, Granitize’s Xzilon hard-shell polish and other cleaning materials, including a clay bar.
Aspen Avionics is also a first-time exhibitor and will be demonstrating the utility of its Evolution primary flight displays and multifunction displays for helicopter applications. The Evolution displays fit into existing instrument panel holes, making upgrades much simpler.
Heli-Expo is always about more than exhibits and rotorcraft hardware, and the pre-show opens with the Helicopter Foundation International scholarship fund golf tournament on February 19 at the Tour 18 golf course in Houston. Tour 18 reproduces famous golf holes such as the 17 at Sawgrass and 18 at Bay Hill so golfers who can’t make it to those courses can experience signature shots.
The HAI Safety Symposium is scheduled for February 20 from 8 to 10 a.m. Then everyone is invited to attend the annual welcome reception at the Hilton Americas from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and the following morning’s annual membership meeting and breakfast at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Companies with job openings and helicopter-oriented job seekers will come together from 1 to 5:30 p.m. at the convention center on February 21 at HAI’s 8th Annual Heli-Expo Job Fair.
On the evening of the second day of Heli-Expo, HAI celebrates the heroes of the industry during the Salute to Excellence awards banquet at the Hilton Americas. The awards honor “those whose remarkable talent and professionalism enrich our industry and whose courage and skills have saved lives under extreme conditions–despite extraordinary odds,” according to HAI.
Every day of Heli-Expo 2010 is packed with committee meetings, safety seminars, technical briefings, workshops, forums and mentoring programs for flight instructors and mechanics. On the final day of the show, February 23, the always-popular “Meet the Regulators” session will be held at the convention center from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. More information about this year’s show can be found at www.heliexpo.com.
Turn to AIN for Heli-Expo News
AIN will publish three daily on-site issues of HAI Convention News, on February 21, 22 and 23, with all the stories from Houston available on the Web each morning throughout the show. AINtv will also be broadcasting TV Webcasts on those dates. Visit AINonline.com and AINtv.com once the show starts to stay up to date on everything that’s happening at Heli-Expo 2010.
Haiti Relief Effort
The tragic and deadly Haiti earthquake will no doubt still be an important topic at Heli-Expo 2010, especially considering the severe damage to Haiti’s infrastructure and helicopters’ ability to fly almost anywhere. Shortly after the earthquake occurred on January 12, the Department of Homeland Security’s critical incident management group asked HAI to provide a list of available aircraft and their capabilities. HAI encouraged helicopter operators to join the association’s First Responder program so they can help with the Haiti relief effort.