Helicopter makers buoyed by sales surge
Helicopter manufacturers have come to EBACE 2007 riding high on the wave of some $732 million in new orders announced at the industry’s Heli-Expo held in Orlando, Florida, in March. They will be looking to chase more business here in Geneva, mindful of the latest market report from avionics and engine maker Honeywell, which has forecast an increased fleet replacement rate of 20 percent among European operators over the next five years.
Eurocopter (Booth No. 1632) has enjoyed a significant sales surge lately, accounting for the lion’s share of the new business announced at Heli-Expo. Its EC 225 is selling well in the offshore oil industry support sector and the smaller EC 130 is being snapped up for a variety of roles, including corporate transportation and leisure charters.
The French-German airframer has a new CEO, Lutz Bertling, who has recently announced a strengthening of Eurocopter’s production capacity and has warned his colleagues that they must not get complacent about their ability to keep meeting customer expectations in terms of deliveries and product support.
Bell Helicopters (Booth No. 7504) also just had a change in leadership, with Richard Millman suddenly taking over as CEO from Mike Redenbaugh in February. One of the problems faced by the U.S. manufacturer was that the market had not taken to its new 417 single-engine rotorcraft. Bell promptly scrapped the program on the eve of Heli-Expo.
However, its 429 GlobalRanger remains on track. The new twin-engine design made its first flight at the end of February and is reported to be on schedule to achieve certification in the first quarter of 2008. As of March, Bell had logged more than 190 orders for the 429.
Koala Gets Enhanced
AgustaWestland (Booth No. 240) has introduced an improved version of its A119 Koala light single. The new Ke (Koala Enhanced) replaces the version that was launched in 1995 and certified in 2000.
The Ke offers a higher maximum takeoff weight, increasing from 5,997 pounds to 6,238 pounds. It retains the original Koala’s Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-37A engine, while bringing improved aerodynamics and increased use of composites in its main rotor blades. The rotor’s increased rpms provide additional lift capacity and better hot-and-high performance at high gross weights.
According to the Italian-UK firm, the Ke’s rotor blades are similar to those of the A109 Power. The landing gear has also been strengthened to handle the higher takeoff weight. All the upgrades can be incorporated into Koalas already in service with operators.
The A119 Ke will move into production as the last several dozen of the A109 Powers are assembled this year. The company said the Ke will be priced “slightly higher” than its predecessor, whose base price in 2006 was $1.95 million.