Heli-Expo preview

 - February 1, 2011, 5:00 AM

Heli-Expo returns to Orlando, Fla., March 5 to 8, bringing together more than 17,000 participants, 600 exhibitors and 65 helicopters in the spacious Orange County Convention Center. This year’s Heli-Expo underscores the continuing strength of the helicopter industry relative to fixed-wing aviation and will feature a variety of technological developments, education workshops, Helicopter Association International (HAI) committee meetings, a job fair, award presentations and, as is typical of the tightly knit helicopter world, outstanding networking opportunities.

The Heli-Expo exhibit halls open Sunday, March 6 at 11 a.m., but the show starts a day earlier with committee meetings and the HAI Safety Symposium (8 to 10 a.m.) and the association’s annual welcome reception (everyone is invited) at the Rosen Centre Hotel from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The Helicopter Foundation International’s second annual scholarship fundraising golf tournament is scheduled for March 4 with a 12:30 p.m. shotgun start at the Grande Pines Golf Course in Orlando. The annual membership meeting and breakfast kicks off the main event on Sunday at 8 a.m., followed by the Heli-Expo 2011 Opening Ceremony just before the doors to the exhibit hall open.

One education session that should see strong attendance is the Helicopter Foundation International’s March 5 Safety Management Systems for Leaders class. Although the FAA has yet to formally require operators to implement safety management systems (SMS), the agency has already issued two SMS notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs), one for Part 121 airlines and one for Part 139 airports. It is likely that Part 135 operators may see the next SMS NPRM, and many operators are already preparing for upcoming mandatory SMS rules by launching SMS efforts and obtaining audits to standards that meet ICAO requirements. Jerry Allen, who heads up the Americas operation at Baines Simmons, will lead the March 5 class. And on March 6 there is another SMS event, the Safety Management Systems Workshop from 1 to 5 p.m.

The industry- and government-supported International Helicopter Safety Team has made SMS compliance a cornerstone in its efforts to lower the helicopter accident rate 80 percent by 2016, so SMS sessions should be of strong interest to Heli-Expo attendees. For more information on education sessions and committee meetings, see www.rotor.com/Events/heliexpo2011.aspx.

On Monday, March 7 at 8 p.m., HAI will hold its 2011 Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner, at which the winners of the helicopter industry’s annual awards will be announced, including the recipient of the prestigious Eurocopter Golden Hour Award for a courageous rescue operation.

Helicopter News

This year looks to be fairly slow in the new helicopter department, and new program announcements aren’t expected at Heli-Expo. Sikorsky is placing big bets on new technology, with the S-97 Raider derivative of the X2 technology demonstrator, and Eurocopter plans to turn the 220-knot compound helicopter X3 into a commercial product. Chinese and Russian helicopter manufacturers will provide a bright spot as they are developing a number of new rotorcraft. Neither Bell Helicopter nor MD Helicopters is expected to make new program announcements at Heli-Expo. Robinson Helicopter will likely be the manufacturer with the newest certified turbine helicopter at Heli-Expo, the R66.

In other new helicopter news, the second prototype of Eurocopter’s new medium twin helicopter, the EC175, made its first flight on December 17 at the manufacturer’s Marignane, France, headquarters. The seven-ton-class EC175 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67Es, and certification is planned for the second half of this year.

Simplex Manufacturing comes to Heli-Expo with a new STC validation from the People’s Republic of China for its Robinson R44 agricultural spray system, the only one approved by China’s CAAC regulatory agency. Simplex has already shipped one of its Model 244 spray systems to China and expects to ship several more this year.

Long-time Heli-Expo exhibitor Conklin & de Decker is delivering three of its comprehensive courses for helicopter operators. The first is a two-day course, Defining Direct Operating Costs, offered on March 4 and 5. The Helicopter Operator Management course will be held from March 1 to 6, and Advanced Helicopter Operator Management will be held March 9 to 11.

Revue Thommen will be back at Heli-Expo demonstrating its sophisticated new HSL 1600 helicopter searchlight, which should begin deliveries in the second quarter. The entirely self-contained searchlight system includes a unique infrared filter that can be deployed at any speed because it is part of the light assembly. Revue Thommen will be demonstrating slaving capabilities of the HSL 1600 at its booth, using commands delivered from a laptop computer to simulate mission conditions.

Textron-owned SkyBooks released version 4.4.2 of its electronic recordkeeping program and will demo the new features at its Heli-Expo booth. SkyBooks now automatically posts flight log records and aircraft usage when the aircraft returns to service. Maintenance operations have been optimized, including a redesigned “replace component” process, addition of customer-requested features to summary card tasks and a new discrepancy/MEL report.

Rotorcraft Issues

Safety of aeromedical helicopter operations remains at the forefront of issues confronting the helicopter industry, and the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) last October that, if enacted, will have a significant effect on operators.

The proposed rules affect both Part 135 and 91 operators. For Part 135 operators, the rules would require all flights with medical personnel on board to be conducted under Part 135, in recognition of the increased risk associated with non-passenger-carrying operations. Flight crew duty and rest limitations would apply to these flights conducted under Part 135 rules. Other requirements include having to establish an operations control center for certificate holders with 10 or more air ambulance helicopters, implement preflight risk-analysis programs, install radio altimeters, conduct preflight safety briefings for medical personnel, employ pilots-in-command who hold an instrument rating and mandate helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems and possibly lightweight aircraft recording systems.

HAI worked with aeromedical helicopter associations to draft a response to the NPRM in time to meet the January 10 deadline. As of mid-January, there were 318 public submissions to the rules docket. In response to requests to extend the comment period, the FAA refused and the comment period closed as scheduled.

One commenter, Air Evac EMS, had an interesting suggestion in its response to the NRPM: any new rules should also apply to government operators. “[The company] believes all helicopter operators carrying patients should operate to a single safety standard; these rules, therefore, should apply to every operation regardless of affiliation or revenue status.”

While the number of aeromedical accidents dropped last year, the topics raised in this NPRM will likely be of significant interest to Heli-Expo attendees.

A growing number of operators are using night vision imaging systems (NVIS), and Heli-Expo is seeing many more exhibitors offering NVIS products and training. Another hot topic at this year’s show is the FAA’s concern that users aren’t properly inspecting and maintaining their night-vision systems. The agency released a safety alert for operators (Safo 10022) on December 15 warning about these issues. According to the Safo, “Recent FAA assessments of NVIS-equipped aircraft have shown that the likelihood of configuration and maintenance problems increases as aircraft continue in service after NVIS modifications. This means that operators of NVIS-equipped aircraft may not be adequately meeting the inspection and maintenance requirements of NVISs.”

The FAA recommends that operators comply with instructions for continued airworthiness for their NVIS-equipped aircraft, train maintenance personnel and make sure flight crew properly report any NVIS problems. NVIS training and product suppliers at Heli-Expo can help users prevent these issues from becoming a problem.

The simulator training industry is adapting to the needs of NVIS operators, and FlightSafety International is highlighting its Level 7 Eurocopter AS350 flight training device. The simulator, based at the training company’s Tucson learning center, is the first equipped for NVIS training, and this year the company plans to start adding NVIS training capability in most of its other helicopter programs.

CAE amazed Heli-Expo attendees last year by bringing its new CAE 3000 helicopter mission simulator to its show booth. The AS350 CAE 3000 simulator was qualified to flight training device Level 7 last year and is based in Phoenix. CAE also introduced a new FAA-approved ground school that allows students to study online via CAE’s Simfinity e-learning program and reduce the amount of time they need to spend at the training center.