In the face of what market forecasters predict will be nearly another full decade of flat civil helicopter sales, manufacturers have been loath to risk precious capital to develop models whose market reception would likely be less than enthusiastic. The result has been a handful of new designs, some riskier than others. Herein, the details…
Remember that day in early spring when suddenly it seemed as if every flower that could bloom actually did, unnoticed and overnight? That’s what happened at the end of the year, when some long-somnolent vertical-lift programs suddenly sprang to life. Most notable was the Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor, which underwent its first power-on engine runups at its Arlington, Texas test base early last month.
Taking its place on Bell Helicopter’s Arlington, Texas, tiltrotor test stands for the first time last month, the long-awaited first of a planned four Bell/ Agusta 609 convertiplane prototypes began its engine runups in December. First flight is loosely scheduled for the first quarter of this year. The six- to 10-passenger aircraft will undergo a planned 40 to 50 hr of static testing before flight.
Rapid economic growth in the United Arab Emirates is fueling the expansion of Dubai-based helicopter operator Helidubai. Less than two years after its inception, the company, owned by the government of Dubai, has embarked on a fleet expansion with both passenger and aerial-work aircraft. In addition, it is also striving to help create dedicated heliports and helipads in the burgeoning city.
Bell/Agusta has delivered a second AB139 to the government of Namibia. The aircraft will fly on utility, emergency medical service and transportation missions as part of the country’s Government Air Transportation Services. Additional deliveries are expected by year-end. The company currently has orders for about 80 aircraft.
The year since Heli-Expo 2004 has not been a bad one for the helicopter industry, all things considered. The industry put on a confident face at Heli-Expo in March last year, with companies logging a record number of deals at the show. Bell announced its intention to claw back market share from Eurocopter and within 48 hours had taken walk-up orders for 11 copies of the just-launched IFR version of its 427 light twin.
Boise, Idaho-based Aviation Specialties Unlimited has installed night-vision goggles in Reach Air Medical Services’ Agusta A109, Bell 407 and BO 105 fleet. Chief pilot Vicky Spediacci said that Reach, based at Santa Rosa, Calif., put its crews through an FAA-approved structured and specific training program provided by the equipment supplier.
AgustaWestland is to supply 10 A109 Powers for border patrol duties in Libya, as part of an $87 million (U80 million) program intended to establish a domestic aerospace industry. The first two helicopters are planned for delivery at the end of this year and the beginning of next, with the remainder to follow between three and four years afterwards.
Maybe it was pent-up demand. Maybe it was part of a desire to party before the war. Maybe times aren’t as hard as the pundits say they are. No matter the reason, this year’s staging of the Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo was a success far beyond anyone’s expectations.
VIP and government flight specialist Dubai Air Wing has ordered two AW139s in executive configuration. In Qatar, Gulf Helicopters has ordered 10 AW139s for offshore-oil passenger transport.