Heli-Expo Preview: Helicopter Industry To Gather in Dallas in February

 - January 28, 2012, 2:30 AM
Last year’s Heli-Expo in Orlando attracted more than 20,000 visitors and 625 exhibitors, and organizers expect this year’s event in Dallas to draw similar numbers. Organizers are expecting 18,000 visitors, 600 exhibitors and 65 helicopters on display.

A cornucopia of copters and rotorcraft-related gizmos, conference sessions and conversations awaits attendees at the Helicopter Association International’s annual Heli-Expo, to be held in Dallas February 11 to 14. This year, HAI is expecting more than 18,000 visitors, 65 helicopters and 600 exhibitors at the Dallas Convention Center.

The location has the unique feature of being the only Heli-Expo site with a real full-time Vertiport adjacent to the Convention Center. As in years past when Heli-Expo was held in the Big D, the Dallas Vertiport will host manufacturer demo flights. The Vertiport won’t be open for show visitors dropping in via helicopter, but it will be used as a brief positioning area for static display helicopters during arrival at the Convention Center.

According to Lana Furra, manager of the Vertiport and nearby Dallas Executive Airport, arriving display helicopters will first have to land at Executive Airport, refuel as necessary, then fly to the Vertiport before moving down to the parking lot next to the Convention Center loading dock. Only visitors who have been precleared will be allowed up to the Vertiport during the show, she added. And the Vertiport will be staffed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day to manage the flow of people and helicopters during the demo flight activity. The Vertiport does not have any fuel.

Attendee Attractions

The Heli-Expo exhibit hall opens at 11 a.m. on February 12, but activities surrounding the show start earlier, with the Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) golf tournament on February 10. A number of pre-show professional education courses begin on February 9, including sessions covering safety management systems, human factors, flight instructor refresher, in-flight emergencies, mountain flying, night-vision imaging systems, long-line operations, aerodynamics and more.

All Heli-Expo attendees are invited to attend the HAI’s Annual Welcome Reception at 7 to 8:30 p.m. on February 11 at the Hilton Anatole and the Annual Membership Meeting and Breakfast at 8 a.m. February 12 at the Dallas Convention Center. The annual Salute to Excellence Awards dinner will honor the helicopter industry’s best and brightest from 8 to 11:30 p.m. on February 13, at the Hilton Anatole. For tickets to the dinner, visit the Heli-Expo website’s registration section.

The HFI will hold a fundraising silent auction from February 11 through 13, to support the Foundation’s scholarship program. For those who are coming to the show to check out employment opportunities, the 2012 Heli-Expo job fair is being held on February 12 from 1:30 to 5 p.m. at the Convention Center.

For more information on events during Heli-Expo and the manufacturer’s technical briefing schedule, see http://www.rotor.com/Events/HELIEXPO2012/AttendeeInfo/PreliminarySchedule.aspx.

Exhibitor Announcements

Heli Asset is planning to announce the launch of its new helicopter brokerage service at Heli-Expo. The new company is led by managing director Emmanuel Dupuy and partner Alain Regourd and is a spinoff of Regourd Aviation’s helicopter sales department. Heli Asset is headquartered in Paris, with offices in the U.S., and the company offers Western civil helicopters in all configurations, including VIP/corporate, offshore, search-and-rescue, police, public service and utility.

Appareo Systems and CHC Helicopter have partnered on an electronic flight bag (EFB) application for the Apple iPad. CHC is deploying more than 500 iPads for crew training and flight operations. Appareo is helping CHC with software development, and the EFB is due for completion later this year.

The helicopter employment picture remains of intense interest, and companies such as Strom Aviation and JSfirm.com and its sister company Aviation Search Group are exhibiting at Heli-Expo to highlight what looks like an increasingly robust jobs picture. Aviation Search Group has had an especially strong year, with search assignments for senior management positions doubling during 2011.

Sandel Avionics began deliveries of its new WireWatch wire alerting system last year. WireWatch is now part of Sandel’s HeliTaws and includes a database of known energized or inert transmission lines above 100 feet agl in the U.S. and Canada. Sandel is working on wire databases for Australia, Western Europe and other areas where information is available. All Sandel HeliTaws units can be retrofitted with WireWatch software at no cost.

Military Spending Drops

The development of new helicopter models is relatively stable, and some of this may be due to reductions in defense spending, particularly in Europe and the U.S. Some markets, too, seem to be saturated, and this could slow demand for new helicopters. The EMS sector has a number of helicopters not in service and operators are consolidating. Cuts in government spending due to reductions in tax revenues have affected helicopter law enforcement units.

The oil and gas production segment is still going strong, however, with oil averaging more than $100 per barrel. Eurocopter’s EC175, aimed at this market, is scheduled to be certified and enter service later this year. The AgustaWestland AW189 is also ideal for the offshore market and made its first flight on Dec. 21, 2011. Certification is expected in 2014.

In late December, Bell Helicopter filed several trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which hint at new helicopter programs. According to the filings, Bell is requesting trademarks for “525SMT,” “Magellan” and “407GT.” Magellan could be a new brand created by the company for a future line of helicopters. Last month, Bell vice president Robert Hastings toldAINthat Magellan was not a new helicopter model per se.

The 525SMT is now believed to be a larger helicopter than the company’s current medium-twin 412 and could be a “Super Medium Transport” that would go head-to-head with the AgustaWestland AW189. It likely would compete in the emerging niche between the Eurocopter EC175 and the Sikorsky S-92A, and be aimed primarily at the offshore oil and gas market.

The 407GT could be an enhanced performance version of Bell’s big single, possibly with a new engine. Bell had fielded a 407 modified with a 970-shp Honeywell HTS900-2 turboshaft for the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) program, which the Army cancelled in 2008.

These developments seem to tie in with Bell’s plans to spend up to $1 billion on research and development, new and renovated facilities, taxable inventory and operations during the next four to five years. The spending represents an overall increase of 50 percent in R&D expenditures and will be applied to both the military and civilian sides of the company.

Other OEM action at Heli-Expo 2012 could include a Eurocopter announcement of an enhanced EC130 B4 with air-conditioning and a Turbomeca Arriel 2D engine for better hot-and-high performance. Eurocopter, which is celebrating its 20th year in business, announced its new Helionix avionics suite at last year’s Heli-Expo and will display the new system on an EC145T2 at this year’s show. Helionix will be fielded in the new EC145T2 and EC175 and will feature three (EC145T2) or four (EC175) large-format Meghas displays with synthetic vision, D-Map, HTaws, EFB and FLIR display. The automatic flight control system is a dual-duplex, four-axis system with envelope protection and pilot assistance with automatic modes, including CFIT prevention, automatic takeoff procedure and automatic management of engine failure.

Sikorsky was expecting certification of the turbine S-434 early this year and may have news about that at the show, as well as updates on the S-76D program and the S-97 Raider, the military follow-on of the X2 technology demonstrator.

Robinson Helicopter has seen its fortunes improve and during 2011 doubled helicopter production compared with the previous year, thanks in part to strong deliveries of its R66 turbine helicopter.

New helicopter manufacturer Marenco Swisshelicopter will be exhibiting a full-size pre-prototype composite airframe at Heli-Expo. Marenco hopes to fly its light single-engine Skye SH-09 by year-end, with entry into service in 2015.

Kaman Helicopters has found a new market for its K-Max, as an unmanned aerial truck hauling up to 6,000 pounds of payload for the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan. Kaman and Lockheed Martin have partnered to develop the aerial truck, and Lockheed is also working with the U.S. Army on a similar program. Kaman is also highlighting its composite rotor blade manufacturing capabilities and partnership with Hontek on the sprayable blade erosion coating system.