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.
Aviation trade shows tend to run in cycles, varying between shows at which sales make up the predominant news and those at which new product announcements hoard the spotlight. Heli-Expo ’03 was most definitely a trade show, with some manufacturers announcing unprecedented sales. On the downside, virtually no new models were announced, but that didn’t seem to bother the crowds that mobbed the Dallas Convention Center hallways from February 9 to 11, where attendance totaled a gratifying 12,877, making Heli-Expo ’03 the best attended HAI show since 2000, when attendance clocked in at 13,747.
But as any show organizer will tell you, it’s quality and not quantity that gauges the success of a trade show. And judging from what exhibitors told AIN, the buyers were on hand in Dallas.
In terms of sheer dollar amount, Sikorsky beat the competition hands down, with both of its predominantly civil products racking up big-buck sales. Offshore Logistics plunked down the green to cover the firm sales of 15 S-76C++s, while signing options for 24 more. Just the firm orders alone total $100 million, to be spent as deliveries progress over the five-year term of the contracts. “This deal cements a long-term relationship between Offshore and Sikorsky that goes all the way back to the delivery of S-76 number one back in 1977,” crowed Jeff Pino, Sikorsky senior vice president of marketing and commercial programs. The first of the new Offshore Log S-76C++s will bear S/N 534.
That helicopter, along with the first third of the new Offshore Logistics order, will come off the Sikorsky assembly line earmarked to replace part of Offshore’s aging fleet of S-76s now serving in the Gulf of Mexico. The S-76C++s, with Turbomeca Arriel 252s, can outperform the S-76s they are replacing by some 30 to 40 percent in terms of both payload and range. Offshore assigned a roughly $100 million price tag to the deal, yielding a per-unit cost of roughly $6.6 million.
Asked about the possibilities of Offshore Log’s purchasing some of Sikorsky’s bigger wares, such as the S-92, to supplant its fleet of 21 S-61s, company president Dru Milke offered a qualified yes. “We’re looking at what the S-92 can do for us, certainly, but they wouldn’t necessarily replace our S-61s because we tend to use them over land in heavy-lift and in search-and-rescue missions. For us the real value of the S-92 would be in the over-water mission. There are certainly S-92s in our future, but when and how many are certainly the questions to be answered.”
A pair of other offshore operators decided there are no more questions to be answered about the S-92 and took the multimillion-dollar plunge, becoming launch customers for the big 22,500-pound Sikorsky. The Stratford, Conn.-based manufacturer has long said it would defer taking orders for the big civil twin before the design was granted its VFR certification, something that took place last December 17, coincidentally the 99th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Sikorsky kept its word, keeping the identities of its S-92 launch customers close and quiet until the last “T” was crossed.
Lining up to buy the first five S-92s are Norsk Helikopter of Sola, Norway, which has agreed to take two, and Cougar Helicopters of Waverly, Nova Scotia, Canada, which will get three. The announcement came as something of a payday for a nearly flawless development program launched a decade ago that seemed an expensive new helicopter for a cash-strapped industry to accept. However, both buyers will have plenty of time to scrape up the dough since the S-92 still has nearly two more years of development testing intended to result in certification of a full-icing-approved, IFR helicopter.
“As close to an all-weather helicopter as we can get,” said one mid-level program manager. All this further testing will move deliveries of the first S-92s to early 2005. Sikorsky hopes to make S-92 sales announcements a regular occurrence as it now tries to make firm the more than 20 or so sales intentions by such operators as ERA and Hong Kong scheduled carrier East Asia Airlines. On top of the civil orders are pending military business throughout Europe and the Near East potentially worth several hundred million dollars over the next decade. (In military configuration, the S-92 can transport 22 equipped troops.) Studies indicate a direct operating cost of $1,000 per hour, the lowest in the S-92’s weight class.
Agusta Scores with Police
The helicopters made by Agusta, while commonplace among the law-enforcement and parapublic fleets of Europe, have traditionally had a tough time penetrating the “thin blue line” of American police forces. That is until Agusta started offering its A119 Koala, a robust, powerful single-engine utility helicopter with a deceptively soft, fuzzy name.
Cesare Arcari, executive v-p for business development and operations for Agusta Aerospace, made the announcements, with the first a contract award by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for two law-enforcement Koalas. They will be extensively equipped with specialized police communications and surveillance gear and used by the Pennsylvania State Police for various law-enforcement missions, including patrol, drug interdiction and tactical team insertion/extraction.
The second announcement detailed the awarding of a deal signed just days before Heli-Expo to supply four A119 Koalas to the New York City Police Department’s aviation unit, a contract with an option for two additional helicopters. The interior configuration of the NYPD helicopters can be changed to support patrol, VIP transport, one-litter/two-attendant EMS mission capacity and tactical insertion and extraction. The units will also be equipped with a rescue hoist and cargo hook.
NYPD’s choice of Koalas comes as something of a shock to watchers of one of the world’s oldest police aviation units. The department has been flying helicopters longer than any other police department in America–more than 50 years to date–and all of its previous ships have been Bell products. The helos made in Hurst, Texas, are so ingrained into the NYPD identity that the unit’s shoulder-patch insignia is a classic bubble-cabin Bell 47. Adoption of non-Bell equipment can be attributed to the Koala’s impressive performance and the manufacturer’s willingness to discount its list price deeply. Perhaps another reason for the buy can be found in the personal tastes of reigning New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, the self-made business press magnate who founded Bloomberg News and pilots his own Agusta A109.
Agusta’s Heli-Expo presentation was made different from those of years before by the joint presentation it made with its corporate cohabitant Westland. Speaking at a press breakfast, Giuseppe Orsi, managing director of AgustaWestland, talked about the year just ended. “As you can see, we are doing things a little different from last year,” noted Orsi. “Traditionally, these events have been hosted by Agusta Aerospace, our commercial branch here in the U.S., but this year we are proud to be here as AgustaWestland and look forward to our future achievements. The U.S. continues to represent a significant portion of our business both in terms of helicopters sold and in terms of revenue.
“Last year we announced that we reached the number-one position in the helicopter world in terms of revenue,” Orsi continued. “This past year has been another exceptional year in terms of revenue and sales. Agusta- Westland increased its revenue to $2.5 billion, up by more than 5 percent over 2001. In 2002 AgustaWestland delivered 101 aircraft, of which 90 percent were twin-engine. Forty-five went to civil customers.”
Orsi reviewed some of Agusta’s major achievements last year, including the A129 Mongoose/International, of which 45 of 60 have been delivered. He also mentioned the completion of the first Malaysian Super Lynx 300, the ground run of the BA609, the selection of the AB139 by Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS) and other achievements. “As soon as the official 2002 numbers are released by the helicopter manufacturers, you will notice that these achievements should position AgustaWestland as the top helicopter company in the world for the second year in a row,” he said.
Discussing his “valuable product” strategy, Orsi listed numerous projects but particularly emphasized ICGS’s selection of the AB139. ICGS is a joint venture established by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman as part of their proposed aviation solution for the U.S. Coast Guard Deepwater program. Deepwater is the Coast Guard’s ongoing multiyear program to modernize and replace aging ships and aircraft and improve command-and-control and logistics systems. The AB139 will provide the VTOL recovery and surveillance aircraft element and is expected to achieve certification this summer.
“The big brother of our AgustaWestland fleet is an American variant of the EH-101 called the US-101,” Orsi said. Agusta is partnered with Lockheed Martin on the project and the U.S. government is evaluating it for numerous possible roles, including use as a presidential rotorcraft. “We look forward to seeing the US-101 landing on the White House lawn, hopefully soon,” Orsi said. (The Sikorsky S-92 has also been proposed for this ultra-VIP Marine One duty, with the Secret Service pleased with the prospect of new Sikorskys to replace the old. The present Sikorsky-built H-3 Marine One helos have been in service for more than 30 years, and while impeccably maintained are said to be showing their age. While the S-92 has friends within the White House, some are said to be nervous about the design’s lack of field experience and thus preferring, at least at present, a machine with more on-the-job operational experience, such as the EH-101–a.k.a. US-101.)
Bell Banks on Tiltrotors
Seldom before has Bell Helicopter seemed simultaneously in such dire straits and in such hopeful times. On one side, the company rang up one of its worst market years ever, selling a mere 87 commercial helos of all types, with Bell’s beleaguered Model 427 slumping to just five ordered for calendar year 2002, making it Bell’s single worst-selling rotorcraft for the season. On the upside, however, the single-engine 407 continued as Bell’s best-seller, at least in the conventionally configured helicopter category. Bell’s 407 has enjoyed one of the hottest sales runs ever, topping well over 500 units since its market entry in 1996. And in the middle, the unknown quantity of the civil tiltrotor.
A refreshingly candid Bell chairman and CEO John Murphey took to the podium during his company’s main briefing for a sort of “bad news/good news” presentation. In the good column was the news that the MV-22 Osprey military tiltrotor is proceeding through the flight-test plan mandated by the pair of fatal mishaps that nearly erased the program in 2001.
So far a growing fleet of test Ospreys has logged a total of 260 hours aloft throughout the aircraft’s performance envelope in a plan aimed at operational status and field readiness of the first Marine Osprey squadron by mid-2005. By then, Bell expects to be well into series production of the design upon which it has based so much of its future, a program that, if carried through to its full expected fruition, will result in some $40 billion in revenues.
The world’s first civil tiltrotor, the BA609, is in engine runup and high-speed taxi tests at Bell’s Arlington, Texas flight-test center, with first flight expected within weeks. Despite previous reports to the contrary, Murphey is holding Bell to his previously announced policy of pressing ahead with Osprey development while relegating BA609 work to a small team of engineers, with 2007 as the goal for FAA approval of the civil aircraft and entry into service.
Under the terms of the sales contracts signed by buyers of the previously reported 80 civil tiltrotors spoken for by commercial customers, a full quarter of the purchase price comes due as soon as daylight shows under the wheels and the BA609 is first airborne. However, some other problems intrude at this stage. First, Bell is loath to dampen the enthusiasm of the BA609’s prospective initial audience, especially by asking them for a sizeable chunk of change in these economically challenged times. Second, no firm price for the aircraft has ever been definitively announced ($8 million to $10 million was mentioned years ago). With several years to settle the issue, Bell seems content to leave the matter to rest for now.
A group of journalists was taken to Bell’s Arlington test site to give them a first-hand look at the first BA609. The ground-test program, which began last December 2, lasted five weeks and included 32 hours of rotor turn time, full-power engine runs, rotor stability checks from 70- to 102-percent Nr at flat pitch and nine degrees of collective and nacelle conversions between 95 and 75 degrees. During six ground taxi tests, all performed January 30, the aircraft was taxied with its nacelles in positions varying from five degrees aft to 15 degrees forward, causing the aircraft to reach forward speeds as high as 50 knots.
Bell/Agusta is planning a four-year, 3,000-hour flight test and certification program involving four test vehicles. Estimates call for certification to FAR/JAR Part 29 in early 2007, roughly two years after the military MV-22 Osprey enters service. Bell/Agusta now claims to have orders in hand for some 70 BA609s from 40 customers in 18 countries.
Bell’s third tiltrotor design, the Eagle Eye unmanned air vehicle (UAV), has been selected as part of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Deepwater integrated system of homeland defense. Eagle Eye is a conventionally configured tiltrotor powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PW200-55 providing an endurance of more than six hours with a 200-pound surveillance payload.
Bell’s deliveries for 2002 showed a decline over its 2001 deliveries. Bowing to what it called “world financial pressures, as well as an exhaustive extended testing program for military products,” Bell admitted to reduced deliveries of just 155 ships, of which slightly less than half were military and used sales.
The company is discarding plans for a once-pondered light single originally known as JRX, which never got much beyond the artists’ conception and customer-survey stage. “Our studies showed it would be just another entry in an already overaddressed market,” Murphey said. “Rather than just come up with an also-ran, our time would be better spent here at Heli-Expo meeting with clients and finding out more of what they will need in a possible new product line we might announce at next year’s show.”
Enstrom Downsizes for Growth
Marking his first Heli-Expo, Enstrom Helicopter president Steve Daniels announced the sale of two helicopters, bringing the company’s current order count to 12 out of a planned 2003 production run of 15 rotorcraft. Though this number seems low, even for a helicopter manufacturer, it shows a substantial increase in deliveries from the company’s average of seven aircraft per year since 1992, and shows that Enstrom is on target for Daniels’ goal of 30 deliveries next year.
Keys to meeting this ambitious goal are the reestablishment of a dealer network in the U.S. and Canada (Enstrom maintained a dealer network long ago, only to divest itself of it in a cost-cutting move it now obviously regrets), a new customer service and support organization, product improvements and an aggressive marketing campaign that will include management and production agreements with Asian companies.
“When I came to Enstrom, I was faced with a company that turned out a solid product with good brand loyalty, but itself had a terrible image,” said Daniels, who left his marketing position at Kaman to replace Bob Tuttle as Enstrom president last June. “To boost sales, we had to let the world know that we’re going to treat customers the way they like to be treated.”
But first Enstrom had to start with its dealers. With Enstrom having dismantled its domestic dealer network in 1992, Daniels began his work by rebuilding it, stressing communication over all else. “What we realized is that the dealer network is really our only domestic sales force,” Daniels said. “You wouldn’t hire several sales people and then never talk to them again, so why would you ignore your dealers? We treat the dealers like an internal sales force, communicating with each one at least once a week to see if they need any support from us.”
Daniels said he then tackled the international market. While Enstrom had left its international dealers in place during the decade in which it had no domestic dealership network, the dealers had little support from the factory. Working with longtime friend Cyrus Pitt, Daniels established Enstrom Helicopter Corp. Asia in Taipei, Taiwan, to manage Enstrom’s network of dealers and representatives in the Pacific Rim. Pitt will serve as president of the newly formed Asian organization.
“Technology won’t sell Enstrom helicopters,” Daniels said. “With our product selling mostly to private individuals for personal transport, it’s an emotional decision on the buyer’s part. We need to establish a good relationship with our buyers, and support existing customers with fair parts pricing, exceptional warranty service and overall by treating the customer right.”
Daniels is also reviving an existing agreement with Chinese manufacturer Wuhan Helicopter Industry Corp. to produce parts for Enstrom helicopters starting in the third quarter of this year. The plan is to have Wuhan produce complete aircraft under license for sales in China within five years. “We see Russia and China as emerging markets for our product,” said Daniels.
Though Daniels said Enstrom customers don’t buy based on technology, he is still pushing several product improvements that should be available later this year, including an elastomeric rotor-dampening system and corresponding elastomeric dampening for cyclic controls that will be available as an STC upgrade first to the turbines and then to the piston models. “With these two dampening systems, you’d swear you’re flying a helicopter with hydraulics–it’s that smooth,” said Daniels. Other product improvements scheduled for availability this year include wire-strike protector kits, air conditioning, rotor brakes and interior litters for the turbine model.
“We know we will never be the biggest manufacturer of helicopters, and we’re not aiming to be,” said Daniels. “But by the end of 2004 we will be about where we want to be–manageable and profitable.”
One of the first things Daniels did to boost profitability when he came on board was to cut the number of employees. But instead of simple downsizing, Daniels said he and his team handled the reduction in force according to actual production needs. He said that while he laid off approximately 20 people from the 75-person workforce in mid-2002, employee rolls are now nearly back up to their former strength, with 73 current employees, although not all in the same capacities.
New management at Enstrom includes Frank Gallagher as COO and vice president of operations, Enstrom veteran Bayard duPont as director of product support, Rick Riddlell as director of quality assurance and Michele DeLuco as marketing manager.
Eurocopter Sells Most Turbine Helos Again
Talk of rancor between Eurocopter and Texas state officials grew to the point that the Franco-German rotorcraft builder recently decided to relocate its North American support base to a new location just outside Columbus, Miss. Such stories came to a head at Heli-Expo ’03, with no less a personage than outgoing Eurocopter president and CEO Jean-François Bigay downplaying the differences his company had with local politicians. Eurocopter’s plan to open a new facility in Mississippi, he said, has more to do with expanding its footprint in the U.S. than saying “adios” to Texas.
“We want to increase our business in the U.S.,” said Bigay at the company’s press breakfast, a Eurocopter Heli-Expo tradition. “Our plan at this time is to keep our Grand Prairie site and develop the new one in Mississippi. We had made a survey of sites in this area and shared our plans with the local authorities. There was a political aspect to our decision, but it was the favorable financial conditions that led us to decide to locate the site in Mississippi. I spoke with local authorities last night and they very much want Eurocopter to stay in this area.”
At a Paris press conference in January, Bigay said a lack of support from local politicians in Texas led to its decision to build a plant in Mississippi.
The Mississippi factory, expected to be completed by the end of this year, will include a completion center, components manufacturing and final assembly of AStar helicopters. Eurocopter officials believe this increased U.S. presence will help improve its prospects of selling helicopters to the U.S. military, a market now flush with products built by American manufacturers. Realistically, the successful penetration of the Pentagon by a non-U.S. rotorcraft builder is slim, according to industry watchers. The Texas site, which employs a workforce of 300, would not be allowed to grow much beyond that size, with the Mississippi site the focus of future growth.
For the second year in a row, American Eurocopter Co. (AEC) has dominated the U.S. civil turbine helicopter market, accounting for 71 of the 149 aircraft delivered last year, or 48 percent. According to Eurocopter’s data, Bell accounted for 30 percent of the U.S. turbine helicopter deliveries; Agusta, 9 percent; Sikorsky, 5 percent; MD Helicopters, 4 percent; and the other OEMs, 4 percent.
“Total revenue was $253.4 million, a 13-percent increase over 2001 revenue,” said Mark Paganini, the newly ordained CEO of American Eurocopter. “We also completed net orders of 69 new aircraft last year and have a backlog of 40 aircraft.”
By market, 42 percent of the 71 helicopters AEC delivered in the U.S. last year were for the parapublic sector, 18 percent were for corporate, 17 percent for aeromedical, 13 percent for utility and 10 percent for offshore. The most popular models were the single-turbine models, accounting for 86 percent of AEC’s total U.S. deliveries: AS 350B2 (29 percent), AS 350B3 (28 percent), EC 120 (15 percent) and EC 130 (14 percent). Twins accounted for 14 percent of total U.S. deliveries: EC 135 (8 percent), AS 355N (3 percent) and BK 117 (3 percent).
Bigay took the opportunity during the press conference to introduce his successor, Fabrice Bégier, who will shortly take the helm of Eurocopter at its international headquarters in Marseilles, France. Bégier said he would continue Bigay’s focus on improving customer support, adding, “Be assured that we will do everything possible to become closer to our customers.”
MDHI Admits Mistakes
“RDM Holdings is committed to the future of MD Helicopters,” said Joep van den Nieuwenhuyzen, owner and chairman of the Dutch company that owns Mesa, Ariz.-based MD Helicopters Inc. (MDHI), at Heli-Expo. His remarks followed those of Henk Schaeken, MD Helicopters chairman and CEO, who boldly admitted that 2002 was a bad year for the company, when problems with two major programs put a strain on operations and finances. Van den Nieuwenhuyzen would not say exactly how much money, which he later termed “a lot,” RDM put into MDHI last year, but he admitted, “We put in enough money to keep the company going, and we’re putting in even more this year to speed up production.”
MDHI delivered only 15 helicopters last year, compared with 28 in 2001, 41 in 2000 and 37 in 1999. The company attributed the low number of deliveries in part to engineering, development and certification delays, with two MD Explorer programs–one for the Dutch national police and the other for the German state police–and export financing problems with MD 600Ns ordered by the Turkish national police.
“Our nondelivery of these helicopters,” Schaeken said, “means opportunities this year because the hard engineering work is completed and we expect to deliver these aircraft this year.” In all, MDHI plans to deliver 44 aircraft this year, of which 35 are already firm. “Our backlog increased $35 million last year,” he said.
Schaeken explained that the delays with the Dutch and German police helicopters resulted from a decision by the FAA that the aircraft needed to receive separate type certifications because of the extensive added equipment. “We had outlined to the FAA how we were going to go about obtaining approvals for these aircraft, which we had expected to do with field approvals and using other companies’ STCs. But the changes ended up being more extensive than we expected. As the systems came out of our engineering department, it became more evident over time to both ourselves and the FAA that our original plan for approval would not be sufficient. We lost about four months because of this and the two programs ended up running in parallel, which was not the original intention.”
He explained further that the problems were related to integration of the various systems and the added weight. In the case of the Dutch aircraft, a max weight increase of 200 pounds was approved “for this very specialized Explorer configuration,” he said.
“The good news is that this tremendous engineering effort is now behind us, and in the process we rewrote the book on integration with these programs,” Schaeken said. And production is back on track, too. Last year, he admitted, it took until August before the company had delivered its first three aircraft of the year. “This year,” he said, “we delivered three in January, so we’re already well ahead of last year. The company is leaner out of necessity, but in a good position to go forward.”
Said van den Nieuwenhuyzen: “For the long term, I’m very confident in the company. I think safety and noise are becoming more important issues and MD’s products are well positioned. My optimism in the company has not been negatively affected by the problems last year.”
Resilience is the key to survival in the rotorcraft business, and Frank Robinson, president of Robinson Helicopter of Torrance Calif., demonstrated some of the resilience that’s allowed his company and the popular rotorcraft it builds to be the dominant force at the low-end of the helicopter market.
“Deliveries were down 20 percent and revenues down 10 percent from expectations in 2002,” said Robinson. “But we are optimistic about 2003, based on the resounding success of the R44 Raven II, 130 of which have been ordered since the delivery of the first one in November.” Overall, Robinson accepted deposits on more than 90 aircraft in January, with deposits on 52 logged in a single week, setting a new company record and raising high expectations for 2003.
Robinson said that the Raven II, a fuel-injected upgrade of the original R44 Raven, was originally intended to fill the hot-and-high niche market but has caught on with customers operating in lower altitudes as well, thanks to a three- to four-knot increase in speed and 30- to 40-pound increase in payload, not to mention the helo’s hydraulic controls. The unexpected demand for the Raven II pushed back orders for the aircraft to August, but Robinson is currently hiring 50 additional workers to increase the number of aircraft delivered per week from seven to 11. If successful, delivery of the current backlog of 90 Raven IIs and 30 Raven Is would be pushed to June.
At HAI Robinson also unveiled its new warranty, which went into effect February 1. The new plan covers all parts and labor on any new Robinson aircraft for two years or 1,000 hours.
Schweizer Takes Aim at Schools
Schweizer Aircraft started the year well by delivering two of its light turbine 333 Models to operators in Florida and Wisconsin.
The West Palm Beach, Fla. police department, the law-enforcement launch customer for the Schweizer 330, traded in its 330/ 333 for a new 333 in January. Since purchasing the 330 in March 1996, the department had put 4,700 hours on its Schweizer, which it had upgraded to a 330SP in 1997 then to a 333 in 2000. Features on the new West Palm Beach-based 333 include a Spectrolab SX-5 searchlight, police radios and infrared camera mounts.
Aero Optics, a light helicopter operator providing pipeline/powerline patrol, aerial survey work, security patrols and aerial photography services from its East Troy, Wis. base, accepted delivery of its new 333 on February 1. According to Aero Optics president Don Voland, one of the factors in purchasing the Schweizer was visibility for all three crewmembers. “On aerial survey flights we are frequently required
to fly with one pilot and two observers. The Schweizer 333 provides excellent visibility from every seat, which no other light turbine helicopter can provide.”
While these two recent sales were for pipeline patrol and law enforcement, Schweizer is finding its primary market among flight schools, with its fuel-injected CBi an especially attractive addition to the Elmira, N.Y.-based manufacturer’s product line. The 300CBi, a fuel-injected upgrade to the company’s 300 series piston-powered helicopters, boasts a Lycoming HIO- 360-G1A, a splined main rotor driveshaft with double the life of the original bolted hub and a new electronic system that includes a startup overspeed limiter, automatic rotor engagement and a low-rotor-RPM warning device. Company president Paul Schweizer said customer response to the upgraded aircraft has been “fantastic,” especially in Europe.
“We have already delivered five CBis to the UK,” he said, “including the first production CBi. Generally speaking, Europeans don’t like carbureted engines because of carburetor icing and using carb heat. So they’ve really been excited about the CBi and its injected engine, which also provides immediate power and greater responsiveness than the previous 300CB.”
With a current backlog of orders that stretches into May this year, Schweizer expects to sell between 20 and 23 CBis this year, a figure approximately 50 percent higher than last year and comprising roughly half of the company’s total aircraft production for the year. Orders for the company’s 300C and turbine-powered 333 models will make up the remaining production units.
“The training market had a terrible time after September 11,” said Schweizer. “But now we’re seeing some positive signs that there has been an upturn in the market. We’re expecting to produce approximately 45 helicopters this year, which is a higher annual count than we’ve had for years.”
The offshore oil market remains strong. Rate raises won by major offshore operators seem to have had little effect on the oil companies’ demand for airlift services, and those contracts have stayed solid. Continuing Middle Eastern uncertainty seems likely to keep countries focused on their own proven (and dependable) oil reserves.
While government and military entities prepare to dispose of large numbers of elderly helicopters by offering old rotorcraft for public use, manufacturers seem not as concerned as they were the last time hundreds of helos were put up gratis for adoption. The costs often associated with refurbishing such aircraft tend to dissuade all but the most dedicated operators–such as financially strapped law-enforcement agencies, the most frequent users.
As said previously, homeland defense and law-enforcement markets remain potentially strong, although the federal government has yet to commit to specific purchase quantities. So does the emergency aeromedical market, currently in a period of modest growth and fleet renewal. The spread of aeromedical services to smaller communities, especially rural ones, is stimulating continued demand for lower-cost single-engine EMS platforms. Increasingly stringent European safety regulation is likely to result in the sale of more large, twin-turbine aeromed aircraft to the market as well.
What about last year’s numbers? Although actual 2002 civil helicopter deliveries were not available to the Rolls-Royce and Teal Group analysts in time for Heli-Expo ’03, preliminary information suggests that approximately 480 to 490 units were delivered, a nearly identical reprise of 2001’s level of activity and within 7 percent of last year’s prediction.