Heli-Expo 2014 Report

 - April 1, 2014, 1:15 AM
Some 20,000 visitors crowded the halls in the Anaheim Convention Center to check out the 60 helicopters on display.

There were some surprises in the new-helicopter department at the Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo show, held during the last week of February, but the big news this year was the crop of orders, especially from helicopter leasing companies.

Newly renamed Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter) wrote orders for 78 helicopters at Heli-Expo. AgustaWestland not only saw its order book swell by 31 helicopters but also flew its AW609 Tiltrotor from Dallas to Long Beach, Calif., to give two customer demonstration flights. Bell Helicopter racked up orders and commitments at Heli-Expo for 196 helicopters, 170 of them Model 505 Jet Ranger Xs (née SLS). Marenco Swisshelicopter logged orders for three helicopters at the show. MD Helicopters expects to deliver as many as 50 aircraft this year and announced orders for two MD530Fs and one 500E, the company’s first from mainland China, from Shandong Qi Xiang General Aviation. Sikorsky announced an order for eight S-92s from leasing company Milestone Aviation. And France’s Guimbal signed up a new U.S. customer for its Cabri G2 trainer.

AgustaWestland unveiled a new product, the AW109 Trekker, the company’s first light twin-engine helicopter equipped with skid landing gear. Deliveries of the Trekker will follow certification next year. Launch customer SevenBar has also ordered another AW109 and a pair of AW119s as part of its first foray into rotorcraft operation.

The Trekker, which can accommodate six passengers or up to two stretchers with two medical attendants, will be produced at the company’s Philadelphia facility. Based on the AW109/Grand, the Trekker is equipped with the Garmin G1000H glass cockpit and is powered by a pair of 815-shp Fadec-equipped Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207C engines for a maximum cruise speed of 154 knots. With a maximum takeoff weight of 7,000 pounds, the Trekker will have an endurance of up to four hours and 20 minutes, or a 445-nm range, with the OEM’s modular five-cell fuel system.

Airbus Helicopters launched the EC225e and AS332C1e variants of the Super Puma at Heli-Expo. The 225e is an extended-range heavy helicopter designed primarily for the offshore market. It features new Turbomeca Makila 2B engines, an improved passenger cabin and increased payload and fuel capacity. The 225e will have a range of 300 nm with 10 passengers. Certification is anticipated next year. The AS332C1e is a utility variant of the Super Puma designed for missions in high/hot environments. It features the four-axis autopilot and automatic flight control systems from the EC225.

In an update on the X4 program, Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury said that development work to date includes running the new quiet and more fuel-efficient main rotor blades for 150 hours, qualifying the Pratt & Whitney Canada and Turbomeca engines–customers will have a choice as they currently do on the EC135–and fabricating the first all-composite fuselage structure. Airbus expects to fly the X4 next year.

Bell unveiled three refined mockups of its short light single helicopter at the show, along with the 505 Jet Ranger X name. Bell began taking orders for the new five-seat helicopter at Heli-Expo, but declined to publicly set a price. However, a Bell spokesman said the 505 is designed to “be price competitive” with the $839,000 Robinson R66. The 505 mock-ups featured an unusual level of detail and were fitted in utility, executive/passenger and law-enforcement configurations complete with searchlight and Flir camera. The utility mock-up closely resembled a prototype aircraft and was fitted with real main rotor blades, transmission, working flight controls and a Turbomeca Arrius 2R engine. Bell plans to fly the 505 before year-end and start production next year at a new assembly facility being built at Lafayette (La.) Regional Airport.

Marenco Swisshelicopter brought its prototype SKYe SH09 all-composite helicopter to the show. “It has not yet flown, but it is the actual prototype number one Marenco SKYe SH09,” explained Matthias Sénès, chief commercial officer. The blades are mock-ups, but only because the actual prototype blades are on the test stand along with engine number one, Sénès noted. “We decided it was important to bring the actual prototype this year, even though it does delay the first flight, but there will be many test flights, and Heli-Expo is only once a year,” he explained.

The SKYe SH09 order book now stands at 51, including the three Marenco announced during the show. The carbon-fiber, single-engine, Honeywell HTS900-2-powered helicopter costs $3.25 million equipped with dual sliding cabin doors and a full glass cockpit. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2017.

Scott’s-Bell 47 selected the Sagem ICDS-8A glass cockpit suite as part of the standard avionics package for the new 47GT-6 helicopter. The Sagem system includes the primary flight display (PFD) and engine monitoring system. CEO Scott Churchill said his company selected Sagem partly because it allows customers to scale the suite to their individual needs and “not burden every customer with the cost and weight of a full-up primary display and navigation system. But with minimal changes and upgrades, the cockpit can easily be converted into a full-up system suitable for operations such as IFR training.”

The selection of Sagem is the latest in a series of developments geared at bringing the turbine-powered 47GT-6 closer to production. Late last year, Scott’s announced that it had received orders for 38 of the helicopters. In a ceremony at Heli-Expo, Rolls-Royce signed a multi-engine contract to deliver its RR300 light turboshaft powerplant for installation on the Scott’s-Bell 47GT-6 light utility helicopter. The engine maker noted that only minor alterations to the RR300 were required to install it in the legacy Bell 47 airframe, with no changes to the engine’s core architecture. The 47GT-6 has an initial target price of $820,000 and deliveries are anticipated to begin in 2016. The prototype is scheduled to fly late this year.

Enstrom Helicopter unveiled a mockup of a low-cost, two-seat, piston-powered trainer on the opening day of the show. The TH-180 is a scaled-down version of the company’s FX-280 three-seater. Company officials said the TH-180 should post direct operating costs of $175 per hour and an hourly fuel burn of less than 12 gph. The helicopter will be powered by the 210-hp Lycoming HIO-390 and feature an engine governor and electric clutch switch. First flight is anticipated this summer and certification is targeted for next year. The launch price is $365,000.

Compared with the 280, the TH-180 has more robust landing gear and weighs 500 pounds less, at about 2,250 pounds mtow, said Enstrom CEO Tracy Biegler. “We basically scaled an F model,” he said. He described the market for the TH-180 as “huge.”

Kurt Robinson was generally upbeat about the prospects for his family’s iconic helicopter company, celebrating delivery of its 11,000th helicopter last year and soon the delivery of its 500th R66 turbine single. Production currently stands at two to three R66s, five R44s and one R22 per week. Robinson also announced its optional new line of glass-panel avionics offerings featuring Aspen Avionics and Garmin equipment, as well as the addition of a new electrical system, avionics master switch and full-throttle caution light. Robinson called the availability of Garmin 600- and 700-series touchscreen GPS units in his helicopters a “great step forward” for pilot situational awareness and convenience.

Over the past year, Robinson continued to add to the number of certification authorities that have approved the R66, including Canada and Russia, even as the company continues to await final certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for the helicopter. This has proved to be a lengthy and, according to Robinson, extraordinarily expensive process. The latest impediment appears to be a controversy over how to ensure that fasteners used on the R66 and other helicopters are not subject to hydrogen embrittlement, Robinson said. He said he was hopeful that final certification approval would be received soon and that he “expected to see a surge in sales at that point.”

Robinson characterized Bell’s re-entry into the light single market with its new 505 Jet Ranger X as good for the industry as a whole and the light single market in particular. “For the last five to ten years we haven’t seen any R&D, except for Robinson, in this whole category. It’s really nice to see. This is a great category. If you can bring on another helicopter that expands the market, that is good for the entire industry.”

French helicopter manufacturer Guimbal cracked the U.S. helicopter market with the delivery during Heli-Expo 2014 of its first Cabri G2 light single to Newberg, Ore.-based Precision Helicopters.

While the EASA-approved (2008) two-seat rotorcraft is now in operation in 22 countries, company president and CEO Bruno Guimbal said entering the American market has long been a goal. “We would never be a real manufacturer until we supplied helicopters to the [U.S.], and it’s coming now,” he said. The helicopter, which is powered by the same Lycoming engine as the Robinson R22, has not yet earned FAA approval, but certification is anticipated in the next few months.

Though his Cabri includes personal helicopter features such as a luggage compartment, Guimbal expects that the helicopter, like its R22 competitor, will find the vast bulk of its use as a trainer in the U.S. It features a three-blade maintenance-free main rotor with semi-articulated composite blades, a shrouded tail rotor, split magneto/electronic ignition system and a 44-gallon fuel tank.

Guimbal told AIN that his company has delivered 64 copies of the approximately $400,000 G2 to 32 operators worldwide and currently has an order backlog for more than 100 rotorcraft. Precision expects delivery of another G2 in June, with more to follow next year. The company is positioning itself as Guimbal’s West Coast distributor and authorized service center.

At Heli-Expo Guimbal notched its second U.S. customer, Heritage Helicopter Services, which expects its first delivery in March next year. According to chief pilot Curtis Spears, the Beaumont, Texas-based company will order up to six G2s, eventually changing over its fleet entirely to the French helicopter.

Large Lessor Orders

Leasing companies garnered serious attention at Heli-Expo 2014, with massive orders that will help keep helicopter manufacturers busy for years.

Milestone Aviation Group kicked off the order spree with an order for eight more Sikorsky S-92s, taking its firm orders and options for the type to 37 worth $1.2 billion. Milestone now holds more than $3 billion in firm orders and options from AgustaWestland, Airbus Helicopters and Sikorsky. Milestone also announced signing of a purchase contract for five AgustaWestland AW139s and three AW189s; these were part of a framework agreement announced in September last year.

Lease Corporation International (LCI) signed orders at Heli-Expo for nearly $1 billion worth of helicopters. The deals include a contract with AgustaWestland for as many as 18 helicopters valued at more than $280 million and a contract with Airbus Helicopters for as many as 21 new rotorcraft valued at some $645 million. Since its launch in 2012, LCI has ordered more than $1.3 billion-worth of rotorcraft. The company is the launch customer for the new EC225e Super Puma, of which it has ordered up to 15, and placed an order for up to six EC175s. LCI’s order from AgustaWestland includes up to 14 AW139s and four AW189s, with deliveries beginning this year and running into 2018 if all options are exercised.

Waypoint Leasing Services announced orders with Airbus Helicopters for 12 EC225s and 25 EC145T2s. Deliveries will begin this year and continue through 2017. Financial details of the order were not disclosed.

The two companies signed a framework agreement last year that enables Waypoint to coordinate its leasing proposals with Airbus Helicopters to include options such as the OEM’s Parts-by-the-Hour support services. Waypoint purchased two EC225s last year that are currently leased for offshore oil and gas operations in Australia.

San Francisco-based Macquarie Rotorcraft Leasing (MRL) announced the purchases of two Sikorsky S-92As for its growing fleet aimed at supporting operators in the oil-and-gas and search-and-rescue markets. The two S-92s, to be leased back to Avincis subsidiary Bond Offshore Helicopters, will be delivered in the second quarter.

More Orders

Avpro signed an agreement to purchase a new Airbus Helicopters EC145T2 for an undisclosed customer and reached an agreement to purchase three Bell 505 Jet Ranger Xs; one of those will go to its management partner, LJ Aviation in Latrobe, Pa.

After unveiling the three mockups of the 505 Jet Ranger X, Bell quickly tallied letters of intent for 170 of the new model. Ten of those helicopters were ordered by Hillsboro Aviation, Bell’s exclusive independent U.S. sales representative and launch customer for the 505. While these 505s are available for purchase from Hillsboro, one has been spoken for already, by Red Bull aerobatic pilot Chuck Aaron.

Abu Dhabi Aviation signed for 10 Bell 525 Relentless to support offshore oil and gas, emergency medical support, VIP transport, firefighting and search-and-rescue missions. Bell also logged orders at the show for eight 407GXs, five 412EPs and two 429s and reached a total of 196 for the show. Two of the 407GXs were sold to China’s Beidahuang Group, which plans to use the helicopters for agricultural work. The 429 will be delivered to the VanAllen Group, which will then deliver the executive-configured helicopter to a private customer.

In addition to its leasing company orders, AgustaWestland signed a contract with Summit Air Ambulance for two copies of the AW119Kx, another with Omni Helicopters International Group for four AW139s and five AW189s, Sloane Helicopters for two GrandNew light twins and secured an order for two AW139s from Japan’s Yamagata and Tottori prefecture firefighting and disaster prevention agencies.

The sales for 78 aircraft that Airbus Helicopters booked at Heli-Expo include the large number ordered by lessors and six EC175s from Noordzee Helicopters Vlaanderen, which previously had ordered 10 of the twin-engine helicopters. CHI Aviation bought two EC175s, while Starlite Aviation added a firm order for two more of the new AS332C1e. Highlighting its position as launch customer for the AS332C1e was display of one of Starlite’s previously ordered helicopters on the Airbus exhibit. The Airbus orders included seven AS350B3e and three AS350B2 models from five customers in the U.S.

Safety First

The rotorcraft industry’s continued focus on safety was embodied in HAI’s new “Land and Live” campaign, which seeks to remind pilots that it might not be a bad idea to land rather than press on to the destination when circumstances warrant. As HAI president Matt Zuccaro put it, “We land on mountaintops, buildings, ships, oil platforms…so, why don’t we land the helicopter when an accident chain begins?”

The NTSB’s placement of helicopter operations on its “Most Wanted” list for 2014 was a highlight of the second-day general session, headed by NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman. This came just a few days after the FAA issued a final rule governing emergency medical services (EMS), Part 135 and Part 91 procedures, operations, training and testing and required equipment. (See article on page XX, refers to story 114.) The agency estimates that implementing the new rule will cost operators $311 million over the next decade. While most of the rule concerns itself with helicopter EMS, it does contain changes applicable to all Part 135 and Part 91 helicopter operations.

HAI’s Zuccaro was disappointed that the new rules failed to account for use of night-vision goggles (NVG). “We’ve been requesting for years the FAA include night-vision goggles in the HEMS rules,” he said, “but they didn’t do that. What’s better for HEMS than night vision? That puzzles us, but the industry on its own has equipped the fleet [with NVG] to the 90-percent level.”

Flight data monitoring (FDM) is of growing interest for helicopter operations. Appareo Systems held multiple “Spotlight Seminars” at Heli-Expo to demonstrate its Vision 1000 FDM and its Aircraft Logging and Event Recording for Training and Safety (Alerts) system. EMS operator Air Methods has adopted Vision 1000 for its fleet of Airbus EC130s, older AS350s and Bell 407s. And Airbus announced that it will eventually equip all of its models with the Vision 1000 FDM, which can record cockpit sound and images.

Continued Growth

The helicopter market is growing slowly but steadily, and this was reflected in Honeywell’s Outlook for Turbine-powered Civil Helicopters forecast. In its survey of 1,000 flight departments that operate 2,800 turbine-powered helicopters (and some pistons) as well as large fleet operators, Honeywell projects deliveries of 1,000 or more helicopters per year through 2018. This represents a 9- to 25-percent improvement over the 2009-2013 time period. For those purchase plans, 41 percent will be light single-engine helicopters, 25 percent light twins, 33 percent intermediate and medium twins and 2 percent heavy multi-engine rotorcraft.

Although the total number of attendees this year didn’t surpass last year’s high number when the show was held in ever-popular Las Vegas, exhibitors that AIN spoke to were highly satisfied with this year’s show.

“We were slammed all day with booth traffic,” said Christ Gadbois, director of aviation for SRT Helicopters, which specializes in search-and-rescue training and services. “We signed three letters of intent at the show.”

Kurt Robinson, CEO of Robinson Helicopter, said he had never seen so much booth traffic on the third day of Heli-Expo.

As clouds gathered on the last day of Heli-Expo 2014, in advance of the heavy rain that inundated southern California the following day, crews quickly wheeled as many helicopters as possible out of the Anaheim Convention Center so they could depart before the sun went down. Robinson Helicopter CFO Tim Goetz was first to lift off from the Convention Center heliport, and after clearing the surrounding palm trees and buildings, he pointed the nose of the company’s blue R66 west for the short flight to Robinson Helicopter’s headquarters in nearby Torrance.