Heli-Expo 2011 Breaks a Record

 - March 31, 2011, 7:10 AM

Feedback from exhibitors at this year’s Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo show–the 63rd annual event–was notably positive, a clear indication that the record attendee and exhibitor numbers signal a strong performance by the rotorcraft industry during the past year. Heli-Expo 2011 attendance reached more than 20,000, according to HAI, and exhibitors totaled 625, up from 15,243 attendees and 596 exhibitors last year. More than 50 helicopters were on display, and exhibitors and vendors filled more than one million square feet of exhibit hall and meeting space at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

All of the helicopter manufacturers announced multiple orders–with Eurocopter booking new orders and agreements for 68 helicopters–and many launched new rotorcraft at the show, including new entrant Marenco Swisshelicopter and its composite SKYe SH09 powered by a single Honeywell HTS900 turboshaft. Eurocopter unveiled a new AStar, the B3e version with a Turbomeca Arriel 2D, as well as the Fenestron-equipped EC145T2, while Bell added two new variants of the 407, the Garmin G1000H-equipped 407GX and the 407AH armed helicopter targeted at the parapublic and military export market. AgustaWestland brought a mockup of its AW169 twin to Heli-Expo and reported a 56-percent growth in orders during 2010, compared with 2009. MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton said she is preparing the company for rapid growth from pending deals with Boeing and a Middle East EMS operator. And Sikorsky president Jeff Pino reported strong 2010 results and plans for building the company’s non-defense portfolio, as well as technological advances that will explore more use of electric power and application of X2 compound helicopter technology.

Bell signed contracts for 41 helicopters–a record–at this year’s show, “an exceptional show for Bell Helicopter,” said president and CEO John Garrison. The sales included 11 of the new 407GXs, as well as 412EPs, 429s and 206L4s. “We can definitely start to feel a change in the climate,” said Larry Roberts, Bell senior vice president of commercial business.

The announcement by Bell of the new 407GX, which was also the launch announcement for Garmin’s G1000H helicopter integrated flight deck, signals a sea change for helicopter avionics, a definite move to glass displays in light rotorcraft. The G1000H launch follows Garmin’s G500H system launch from last year, and the smaller system was on display in a number of helicopters on the show floor. Robinson helicopter operators are clearly interested in glass-panel upgrades, and Garmin announced it has started working on a supplemental type certificate (STC) for installation of the G500H on R44s. The G500H will install easily into the R44 with the 10-hole instrument panel, but R44s that have the seven- or nine-hole panel will need to add a new Garmin-designed panel that moves the avionics closer to the pilot and doesn’t block the view outside. Garmin expects FAA approval of the R44 G500H STC in the fourth quarter.

The G1000H not only brings Garmin’s large high-resolution displays into the cockpits of VFR Part 27 helicopters but also incorporates engine instrument display as well as a tail-rotor camera view, system diagnostics, helicopter synthetic vision technology, HTaws terrain awareness with graphical and audible alerts of potential terrain and obstacle conflicts (including Garmin’s forward-looking terrain avoidance capability, which provides “visual and aural advisories to keep pilots informed of hazardous terrain and obstacles,” according to Garmin). Optional G1000H features are XM WX and radio, traffic display, Iridium datalink (which can send automatic position-reporting information), data logger and Wi-Fi datalink. The G1000H attitude and heading reference systems are updated to accommodate helicopter dynamics, as they were on the G500H.

The G1000H includes Garmin’s new GMA350 audio panel, which was also introduced at Heli-Expo. The GMA350 digital audio panel allows pilots to change selections using voice control (activated by a trigger switch). And it also incorporates Garmin’s new 3-D audio, which spatially separates two different audio inputs. With current audio panels, if a pilot is listening to ATC on one radio and ATIS or weather on another, it is difficult to separate the two audio streams. With 3-D audio, each channel is separated and piped toward opposite sides of the headphones, making it much easier for the pilot to pick out which audio stream to monitor. The GMA350H helicopter version adds support for three com channels and night-vision-compatible green annunciation and backlighting. Both versions of the GMA350 incorporate advanced auto squelch and ambient noise-based volume adjustment.

The 407GX is priced at $2.795 million, $150,000 more than the current 407. The G1000H will be certified and available in the third quarter. During the show, Bell flew demonstrations from the convention center heliport to show off the G1000H-equipped 407GX.

The new 407AH (armed helicopter) is equipped with Garmin’s G500H glass cockpit system, AAI bulged skylights, inlet-barrier filter, wire-strike protection system and Meeker quick-release door pins. Weapons on the 407AH include a Dillon 7.62-mm M134T mini-gun and M260 2.75-inch seven-shot rocket launcher. Buyers can add options such as chafe/flare controller for countermeasures, sliding rear doors, cargo hook and crew seat armor. The 407AH, said Bell’s Roberts, “will meet the needs of a variety of parapublic agencies at a cost that is far less than that of similarly equipped military aircraft, but with increased lethality.”

“This is a non-integrated system,” said Roberts. “It does not fire directed munitions. By doing it this way it is really a commercially armed aircraft, and we can offer it outside the scope of the military process. All the necessary licenses have been applied for or acquired.” A base AH will cost “under $5 million,” he said, and the helicopter is directed “primarily at the international market.”

A New Helicopter

Swiss engineering firm Marenco unveiled the Swisshelicopter SKYe SH09 light single, an all-composite 5,200-pound helicopter that will sell for $2.6 million. Powered by a Fadec-controlled Honeywell HTS900, the five-bladed SH09 will have a shrouded tail rotor and feature Sagem glass avionics, a cruise speed of 145 knots, 430-nm range and useful load of 2,800 pounds internal, 3,300 pounds external. Marenco CEO Martin Stucki said the SH09 development program is fully funded and that deliveries will begin in 2015.

Eurocopter had its own new-helicopter announcements, revealing not only the next version of the AStar, the AS350B3e, but other new models in the “E” (enhanced) class. The B3e is powered by Turbomeca’s new Arriel 2D and has an improved interior design and tail-rotor modifications. Certification is scheduled for mid-year and deliveries will begin by year-end.

Eurocopter’s big news was the unveiling of the EC145T2 in a ceremony swathed in bright lights and entertaining music. CEO Lutz Bertling sat in the cockpit with four glamorous “passengers” as the 145T2 rolled out along a clever sliding platform. The 145T2 replaces the helicopter’s exposed tail rotor with a Fenestron shrouded by a new composite tailboom. Two new Fadec-controlled Turbomeca Arriel 2Es boost power output, an increase that will be especially apparent with one engine inoperative. Other changes include a new three-display glass cockpit and four-axis autopilot. Performance improvements include 5 percent higher cruise speed, to 137 knots. Deliveries begin in 2013, and Eurocopter announced commitments for 17 EC145T2s at the show.

Last year, Eurocopter logged orders for 346 helicopters worth $6 billion, down from $7.8 billion in 2009. Total revenues last year were $6.7 billion, up from 2009’s $6.2 billion. American Eurocopter’s 2010 revenues were $821 million versus $784 million in 2009, and 2010 market share for the U.S. company was 64 percent. American Eurocopter president Marc Paganini said that while growth in the U.S. market depends on the economy, he is confident in growing demand for replacement helicopters, noting that the average age of helicopters operating in the U.S. is between 17 and 20 years.

Sales Success

AgustaWestland came to Heli-Expo 2011 having logged stellar results during 2010, including delivery of 111 commercial helicopters and a jump in total revenue to $5.06 billion in 2010, up from $4.832 billion in 2009. “AgustaWestland has been growing at more than three times the rate of market growth,” said CEO Giuseppi Orsi. AgustaWestland’s order backlog now stands at $16.888 billion, which equals three years worth of production.

Orsi used the occasion of the show to announce the formal “full commercial launch” of the AW169, which was on display in a full-size mockup at the massive AgustaWestland booth. The company began taking orders for the AW169 at this year’s Heli-Expo, and while earlier projections saw entry into service in 2014, Orsi said that the new ship will fly in 2012 and should enter service in 2013.

As for the long-gestating BA609 civil tiltrotor, Orsi said that an agreement between Bell Helicopter and AgustaWestland is near that will allow the Italian company to move forward more aggressively on its own. He said that the company hopes to announce certification and entry into service dates at next year’s Heli-Expo.

Bell CEO Garrison said that the company is in “active negotiations” with AgustaWestland over the future of the BA609. He added that Bell was sending a team to Italy after Heli-Expo. “We’re working together and trying to find a way to move the program forward. We are continuing to find a way to bring it to commercial certification, and it will take a partnership to get there.”

MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton said the company is on the verge of finalizing two significant deals. These include a long-term contract with Boeing to build AH-6i airframes for a U.S. Army light attack/reconnaissance helicopter program and a pending contract with a six-nation EMS program in the Middle East for 50 to 75 MD902s. A contract with the National Guard of Saudi Arabia for MD530Fs is also close to signing, she said.

Tilton said that MD Helicopters will introduce a new helicopter, the MD540F, a hybrid of the MD530F and MD600. Aimed at the foreign military market and domestic EMS operators, the new helicopter has a cabin that “is perfect [for EMS] and it’s a little easier to handle,” she said, than the MD600. “It’s something we can do in the short term, because they’ll be made from pieces of our [current] aircraft.”

In other MD Helicopters news, the company unveiled a new composite main rotor blade for the MD500F, co-developed with Van Horn Aviation. The new blade should increase internal gross weight to 3,350 pounds from 3,100 pounds, help lower operating costs, reduce the noise signature, decrease fuel burn and triple blade life from 3,430 hours on the current metal blades to 10,000 hours. An FAA STC for the new composite blades is expected later this year.

Tilton said MD Helicopters sold 20 helicopters last year, including one MD902 twin. Last year she admitted that the company had $11 million in overdue payments to vendors outstanding. This year, she said, overdue payments “are zero. We are extremely excited about the future. We keep working on our processes so we can get better and better so we can deliver.”

Sikorsky took orders for five S-76C++ helicopters at the show, from leasing company Milestone Aviation, and SonAir Servicio Aereo signed a contract for six S-76C++s. Sikorsky president Jeff Pino also sees opportunities for replacing older helicopters because half the current fleet is more than 20 years old. “From our perspective,” he said, “the market will begin to come back at the end of this year into mid-2012. By 2013, demand will outstrip supply.”

Last year, sales of the S-76 and S-92 totaled $900 million. The new S-76D continues to work toward certification by late this year. Sikorsky S-92s in service now total 132 operating in 22 countries and Bristow’s highest-time S-92 has logged more than 10,000 hours. Sikorsky is moving production of the turbine-powered S-434 from Elmira, N.Y., to Coatesville, Pa.

Pino summarized Sikorsky’s efforts in the electric-powered helicopter field. The Firefly technology demonstrator as currently designed has a 200-hp electric motor and 1,100 pounds of batteries, enough for 15 minutes of flight time. Pino pointed out that Igor Sikorsky’s early efforts included an endurance record of one hour, 15 minutes, which seemed at the time to highlight the helicopter’s limited practical application. In a hint of where Sikorsky engineers are headed, he said, “Electric helicopter power is teaching us how to use electric power for the tail rotor instead of taking engine power to the tail.”

Forecasts Optimistic

Honeywell and Rolls-Royce released their annual helicopter market forecasts at Heli-Expo. In its “Turbine-powered Civilian Helicopter Purchase Outlook Report,” Honeywell predicts global deliveries of turbine-powered helicopters of between 4,200 and 4,400 through 2014, a 5-percent gain over deliveries from 2006 through 2010. “Although specific purchase plans for 2011 remain subdued,” the report noted, “expectations for new aircraft ordering in 2012 and 2013 increased 40 percent over 2011 levels, suggesting the recovery will gain momentum starting next year.” Global five-year demand for new turbine-powered helicopters is split almost 50-50 between the Americas and Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. “Latin America has the highest fleet replacement and expansion expectations of all world regions. In terms of demand for new helicopters, this region is the world’s third largest, following North America and Europe.”

The Rolls-Royce forecast looks at a longer period, through 2020, and sees 16,900 new turbine helicopters (civil and military) delivered between now and 2020 with a value of $140 billion. The civil rotorcraft market will account for 10,900 airframes worth $34 billion and associated engines worth $4.8 billion. “While the market has not returned as quickly as the industry desired,” said Patricia O’Connell, Rolls-Royce business sector president, “basic indicators are beginning to support a positive environment for civil rotorcraft.”

At Heli-Expo, Uniflight announced that it is developing an STC to install Rolls-Royce’s new 475-shp RR500 in the Bell 206. The $599,000 STC should be certified in early 2013 and will include the engine, a new cowling and exhaust, Donaldson inlet barrier filter and diffuser-vent filter and a Sagem eight-inch cockpit display for engine instruments. The mod will increase the 206’s maximum payload by 400 to 450 pounds and improve the climb rate. “High/hot performance is going to be a stemwinder,” said Christopher Fultz, Rolls-Royce RR500 program director.

More Avionics

Rockwell Collins announced that it signed a long-term agreement with Sandel Avionics to include Sandel’s HeliTaws terrain warning and avoidance technology in Rockwell Collins’s rotorcraft avionics systems. Rockwell Collins also snagged its first helicopter Pro Line 21 retrofit, in an upgrade program for the Sikorsky S-61 by Vector Aerospace.

Cobham’s synthetic-vision-based glass cockpit avionics were selected for retrofit in the Eurocopter and Bell fleets of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

In Sikorsky’s new S-76, the Thales TopDeck avionics suite will have four new functions, including Waas LPV GPS approaches, XM WX satellite weather, a flight-following system and ADS-B out capability. All of these upgrades will be added as enhancements to TopDeck’s iFMS 200 flight management system, the TopStar 200 GPS receiver and the automatic flight control system.

Aspen Avionics showed off its helicopter-specific Evolution glass-panel avionics in three helicopters on the Heli-Expo static display, a Schweizer 300C, Robinson R44 and Enstrom 480B. In 2009, Aspen began reworking its attitude and heading reference systems for helicopter dynamics. The Aspen displays are now STC’d in the Bell 206, and other approvals are expected shortly.

Universal Avionics also announced helicopter qualification of its EFI-890R glass panel avionics for the helicopter market. The EFI-890R, which offers a synthetic vision display, was recently tested and successfully qualified for several helicopter-specific vibration profiles covering 13 models, and this should open opportunities for new installation platforms for Universal’s products.

Heli-Expo Developments

Five months after Robinson Helicopter received FAA certification for the turbine-powered R66, the company announced certification of the much-awaited air-conditioning system for the light helicopter. The $23,000 system weighs 42 pounds and delivers 17,000 BTU/hour cooling capacity. The R66’s under-seat baggage compartments are not affected by the air-conditioning upgrade because the evaporator and fan are installed under the aft center seat, which has no storage area.

An interesting development at Heli-Expo was the announcement by Airwolf Aerospace that it received FAA parts manufacturer approval (PMA) for new tension-torsion straps for the Bell 206 series. The straps must be replaced regularly, and Airwolf’s FAA-approved PMA straps cost about $1,500 less per pair than the Bell parts, according to Airwolf. “For years the only option was no option at all,” said Airwolf senior engineer John Montana. “Now, there’s a much more affordable and FAA-approved alternative.”

While airframe manufacturers generally frown on aftermarket-developed parts and modifications in favor of their own original designs, Bell signaled some thawing in that attitude at this year’s Heli-Expo. Bell has incorporated BLR Aerospace’s FastFin mod into new 412EPs as factory-standard equipment. And BLR is now targeting FastFins for the 206B and 206L. The FastFin is also available for the existing 412 fleet as well as the 212, UH-1 and 204/205.

On day two of Heli-Expo, Bell signed an agreement to distribute composite tail-rotor blades manufactured by Van Horn Aviation. The Van Horn blades are certified under an STC for the Bell 206B and 206L and offer a reduction in tail-rotor noise, greater tail-rotor authority, better hot/high performance and a 5,000-hour service life. “This STC allows us to provide our customers with a product that not only adds value to their mission but also meets Bell Helicopter’s rigorous engineering standards,” said Bell senior vice president Danny Maldonado.

Demo Flights

Having a private heliport at the convention center helped manufacturers provide more than 90 demo flights during Heli-Expo 2011, highlighting the small footprint needed for helicopter operations. On March 2 and 3, some 39 helicopters flew into the convention center, and they departed late on March 8 and on the following day.

In addition to many committee meetings, M&O sessions, safety classes, the job fair and manufacturer briefings, an official commitment signing ceremony was held on March 6, where a number of organizations signed on to the International Helicopter Safety Team initiative. These included the Association of Air Medical Services, Air Medical Operators Association, Association of Critical Care Transport, MedEvac Foundation International, National EMS Pilots Association, Aeromedical Society of Australasia and European HEMS and Air Ambulance Committee.

“Heli-Expo 2011 is solid proof of the international helicopter community’s strength, which is built on the helicopter’s ability to meet the diverse needs of society,” said HAI president Matt Zuccaro. Next year’s show will be held from February 11 to 14 in Dallas. o