Heli-Expo ’13: Big Orders Dominate

 - April 1, 2013, 12:55 AM

This year’s Heli-Expo continued the show’s record run, exceeding the number of attendees at the Helicopter Association International’s annual convention for the sixth year in a row. The final numbers included 20,393 attendees, 60 helicopters and 736 exhibitors, according to HAI president Matt Zuccaro.

Held in Las Vegas from March 4 to 7, Heli-Expo ’13 turned out to be a show with a few new product announcements but many helicopter orders. By the end of March 6, the orders (firm, options and letters of intent) reached 230, and more announcements kept coming after those numbers were tallied.

The buyer this year with the biggest checkbook turned out to be leasing company Milestone Aviation Group. The Dublin-based company announced an order for up to 15 Eurocopter EC225 Super Pumas and five EC175s. Milestone later followed up with a big Sikorsky buy, with a firm order for 23 S-92As and seven S-76Ds and options for another 14 S-92As and 10 S-76Ds. These orders are expected to more than double Milestone’s helicopter fleet value, which currently stands at about $1 billion, to about $2.2 billion, according to founder and chairman Richard Santulli.

On the opening day of Heli-Expo, Bell Helicopter announced an order for thirty 206L4s and 407GXs from Air Medical Group Holdings, parent of Air Evac Lifeteam, Med-Trans and EagleMed. Bell also logged orders for 20 helicopters from international customers.

Eurocopter shared details of another significant order, the confirmation of an earlier letter of intent by Bristow Helicopters to buy 12 EC175s, plus an unspecified number of options. Bristow is set to become the U.S. EC175 launch customer when it places its first EC175 into service in the Gulf of Mexico following certification later this year. Certification was originally scheduled for last year, but the helicopter’s Helionix avionics system won’t be certified until the middle of this year. Flight-testing of oil-and-gas mission equipment is under way, and this configuration will be certified for the first Bristow delivery.

Heli-Expo visitors got to see the first series-production EC175, which arrived on March 1, painted in Bristow colors and logo. This helicopter was the third EC175 to fly, having made its first flight in December. Just before the show, Bristow’s EC175 landed for the first time on an oil platform after taking off from Bristow’s base in New Iberia, La. AIN COO R. Randall Padfield flew the new EC175 briefly during an event held in New Iberia before Heli-Expo. The event was the launch of a two-week U.S. tour that included the Heli-Expo show.

Growth through Evolution

Eurocopter also announced a new helicopter at Heli-Expo, the EC135T3/P3, which exemplifies the company’s evolutionary approach to improving existing product lines. “[This approach] keeps residual values of the helicopters high,” said outgoing Eurocopter president and CEO Lutz Bertling, “[and] it reduces development risk in terms of resources.” The new EC135T3/P3 features optimized Fadec software, longer rotor blades and a relocated air intake, yielding a 66-pound increase in mtow and 440 more pounds of payload in hot/high conditions.

Bell Helicopter also took the derivative route, with three new helicopters on display at its Heli-Expo booth, one of which was a preview of the 429 with wheeled landing gear designed for executive markets. Also on display was the new 412EPI, deliveries of which are slated to begin next year, first as an STC’d version then certified production later next year. Priced at an estimated $10.4 million, the 412EPI features a new Bell BasiX flight deck with Rogerson Kratos primary flight and multifunction displays, more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T-9 Twin-Pac engines and BLR strake and FastFin system. The improvements provide better hot/high capability, with payload boosted by as much as 1,410 pounds. The Bell BasiX offers Waas GPS approaches, Bell’s power situation indicator, on-screen performance calculations, digital charts, ADS-B out transponder and Garmin’s GTN 750 touchscreen GPS/navcom. H-Taws and XM satellite weather are optional.

The 407GX, the armed version of the 407GT, was also on display at Bell’s exhibit and features Garmin’s helicopter-optimized G1000H flight deck. Delivery of the first 407GX is expected later this year. Visitors to the Bell display also had the opportunity to fly the 525 Relentless simulator, which gave pilots a taste of the new helicopter’s fly-by-wire flight controls. With a Garmin touchscreen-controlled G5000H flight deck, the 525 is on track to fly next year. Bell reported after the show that more than 250 customers took demo flights in the 429 and 407GX, from the temporary heliport next to the convention center, and in the 525 simulator.

While AgustaWestland had no new helicopter announcements at Heli-Expo, the company did introduce its new CEO, Daniele Romiti (see article on page XX), to the helicopter world. Romiti took over following the fallout from an international bribery scandal that led to the February 12 arrest of former CEO Bruno Spagnolini, who was relieved of his duties by the Finmeccanica board on February 21. Romiti will oversee six new helicopter development programs (four civil, two military), including the AW189 and AW169, slated for certification later this year, and the AW609 tiltrotor, scheduled to enter service in 2017.

With regard to the bribery scandal, involving the sale of 12 AW101 helicopters to the government of India, Romiti pledged “full transparency” in the ongoing investigations and expressed confidence that the company ultimately will be exonerated. “There has been no wrong-doing by the company and we are confident of that,” he said.

Celebrating its 90th anniversary, Sikorsky kept Heli-Expo denizens wondering what it had up its sleeve with a shrouded helicopter at the company’s exhibit. During a morning ceremony on March 5, Sikorsky unveiled the recently certified S-76D painted in Bristow colors. Bristow announced an order for 10 S-76Ds and options for another 16. Sikorsky also announced an order for four S-76Ds configured for search-and-rescue and options for another four from China’s Ministry of Transport. The S-76D backlog is now $700 million, with production nearly sold out through next year. The S-92 backlog has reached $1.5 billion.

Avionics Innovation

Sikorsky avionics partner Thales demonstrated the new S-76D’s TopDeck flight deck. Unique in the helicopter field, TopDeck allows pilots to control the displays using a cursor control device mounted on the center console. And the system’s iFMS 200 allows pilots to manage or modify flight plans and performance via the displays.

MD Helicopters worked with Universal Avionics to design Universal’s first integrated flight deck for an OEM, the Next Generation Cockpit that will be featured in the MD Explorer twin. The system includes two large LCDs, with a third optional for a second pilot. The displays have no bezels or soft keys. Instead, the system is controlled via a center-panel-mounted CDU or via a cursor controlled by a point-and-click button mounted on the cyclic, enabling the pilot to operate the system without looking away from the displays. Certification is planned for next year, and the flight deck will also be available as a retrofit.

Last year was the best ever for MD Helicopters, according to CEO Lynn Tilton, with 24 deliveries and the best revenue performance since she took over the company in 2005. MD Helicopters is busy preparing the MD540F for the U.S. Army’s Armed Aerial Scout competition. At Heli-Expo, Rolls-Royce announced the new M250-C47E engine, and MD Helicopters revealed that it has selected the new engine for the MD540F program.

Production of Robinson Helicopter’s turbine-powered R66 now stands at six per week, with 191 delivered last year. CEO Kurt Robinson said he is encouraged that R66 sales have not slowed demand for the R44, which saw 286 deliveries last year. Next up is certification of the R66 in Canada, Russia and Europe. FAA approval of floats for the R66 is expected shortly. On the avionics front, Robinson is working with Garmin and Aspen Avionics on approval of glass-panel avionics in all Robinson models. The Aspen units will be offered as options for the R22 and R44, and the Garmin GTN touchscreens and G500H system in the R44 and R66. FAA approval is expected in the second half of this year.

Robinson also announced an effort to obtain FAA approval to fly piston-powered R22s and R44s on unleaded gasoline. The FAA has issued the company a project code and made it a priority. Robinson hopes to obtain the necessary approvals from engine manufacturer Lycoming in the first half of this year.

Enstrom has joined the glass cockpit revolution and displayed a Garmin G1000H flight deck in the turbine-powered 480B. The optional flight deck will cost buyers an additional $155,000, including synthetic vision and H-Taws. Certification is expected this summer. The Menominee, Mich.-based company arrived at Heli-Expo with fresh new funding, thanks to its acquisition late last year by Chongqing Helicopter Investment, which plans to inject $10 million into Enstrom to help it build new production facilities.

Scott Churchill, owner and president of Scott’s-Bell 47, is bringing back the iconic Bell 47, but this time powered by a turboshaft engine. The new 47-GT6 will sell for $820,000 and features composite rotor blades, modern instruments and avionics, LED exterior lighting and updated drive-train technology. Flight-testing of the new helicopter and its Rolls-Royce RR300 engine will begin in a year, and the development and certification program should take about 30 months, with deliveries commencing in 2016, according to Churchill.

Kaman Aerospace renewed its commitment to the helicopter industry, emphasizing its newly reorganized identity as “One Kaman.” The emphasis includes Kaman’s capabilities as a manufacturer of metal and composite structures and complete systems design as well as creation of a sales team charged with selling the company’s total capability.

Industry Growth

Honeywell released its annual Turbine-Powered Civil Helicopter Purchase Outlook survey at Heli-Expo. During 2013-2017, deliveries of new civil-use helicopters will total between 4,900 and 5,600, with strong demand focused in the first three years of the period and reflected in every region of the world. This is 35 percent higher for this three-year period than was predicted in last year’s survey.

The 2013 forecast represents a rebound, after the 2012 survey found a 4-percent decrease in demand over the 2011 report. Honeywell believes that the industry “may be returning to a more expansionary environment.” Light single-engine helicopters are the most in-demand segment, followed by intermediate/medium twin-engine helicopters. Planned purchases of heavy multi-engine helicopters declined slightly from 2012 levels. The forecast also found that most operators plan to increase utilization of their helicopters.

How much the helicopter industry can grow may depend on the regulatory climate and whether that hinders or promotes new developments. To that end, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) shared results of its participation in the Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee. GAMA is encouraging the helicopter industry to adopt a similar process for helicopters certified under Parts 27 and 29, and the FAA has asked the industry to comment on these regulations (due May 23). Specifically, the FAA is seeking comments on whether it should revise the maximum weight and passenger seat capacity for helicopters in both categories and make airworthiness standards “more efficient and adaptable to future technology.” (See article on page XX.)

A big part of Heli-Expo every year is a focus on safety, and HAI made sure that aspect was emphasized throughout the show. New for this year was the HAI Rotor Safety Challenge, a series of safety events, forums and one-hour presentations on a variety of safety topics. Those who attended at least six sessions received a certificate of recognition.

HAI president Zuccaro highlighted key efforts that the association continues to emphasize, including the International Helicopter Safety Team’s goal of reducing helicopter accidents by 80 percent in 10 years. That goal now appears unattainable, but Zuccaro said the effort will continue. “The industry has reduced accidents internationally by 30 percent,” he said. “We will not reach the 80-percent goal in 10 years. There has been a readjusted focus and goal; it needs to be zero tolerance [for safety infractions] and zero accidents. There’s been a decision made that this will continue forever, moving toward zero accidents.”

One of the key issues that HAI is emphasizing is that helicopter emergency medical operations should universally adopt night-vision goggles. “We’re still lobbying the FAA,” said Zuccaro. “That’s unusual–a trade organization asking for more regulation. [But] when it’s the right thing to do, we will support regulatory initiatives.”

Zuccaro is most concerned about helicopter noise issues, where legislators are attempting to force the FAA to consider noise complaints in regulating air traffic. Although there are no studies that quantify the problem, this hasn’t stopped legislative efforts, the most recent being in the Los Angeles area.

Perhaps nothing underscores the benefits that helicopters offer than their ability to rescue people, which was Igor Sikorsky’s vision when he launched Sikorsky Aircraft 90 years ago. During a demonstration of UTC Aerospace’s rescue hoist, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police crew had just begun lowering the fast-line when they received an emergency call. The demo was rescheduled for another day, and the crew flew to the Red Rock Canyon area 20 miles west of Las Vegas to rescue an injured hiker.

Next year’s Heli-Expo moves farther west, to the Anaheim Convention Center in southern California, from February 24 to 27 (exhibits open February 25-27).