Safran Helicopter Engines arrived at Heli-Expo with three engines on the cusp of certification, new digital services designed to boost predictive maintenance, and a push toward hybrid-electric development.
Formerly Turbomeca, the French helicopter turbine maker has two of its newest products at Booth C4023, the Arrano 1A, which powers the Airbus Helicopters H160, and the Aneto 1K, which equips the Leonardo AW189K, a variant of the AW189 super-medium-twin. Those two engines, and also the Ardiden 1U, which power the Indian HAL Light Utility Helicopter, are expected to be certified this year, Franck Saudo, CEO of Safran Helicopter Engines, told AIN.
Additionally, the engine maker is showing some existing engines, including its bestselling Arriel, with more than 13,000 units sold in 150 countries, and the Ardiden 3.
Safran Helicopter Engines had a solid 2018 as production increased 16 percent (820 engines delivered) while the overall market remained flat, the company reported. “It means we took market share from our competitors, as much on the single-turbine segment as on the twin-turbine segment,” explained Saudo. Safran said the worldwide market share of its engine lines (excluding U.S. and Russian military helicopters) grew from 32 percent in 2017 to 37 percent in 2018.
Led by the military market, the heavy helicopter market has been dynamic, helping to compensate for the still weak oil-and-gas market, the company said. Geographically speaking, the company encountered its main growth in emerging markets like India, China, and generally in Asia. This year, Saudo still forecasts growth but at “a lower rhythm.”
In addition, the engine maker is highlighting the latest evolutions of its health monitoring solutions for predictive maintenance and a new version of its customer online portal that enables customization.
To improve the dispatch and availability rates of its engines, Safran Helicopter Engines launched a number of new digital services in 2018, including e-documentation, e-spares, a health monitoring solution, and online shared endoscopic images to help make the right repair at the right moment. Saudo said the idea is to use a predictive MRO approach to transform unscheduled issues into scheduled repairs.
Today, around 1,700 engines are covered by those new services out of a total of 18,000 installed engines globally. Next April, the engine maker will also open its new MRO center in Tarnos (South of France), where the company has invested €50 million ($56.5 million). This facility will be equipped with all the newest digital and mechanical technologies, aiming to improve deadlines and quality.
Hybrid-electric engines will also be one of the focuses for 2019. Safran, which has been investing in this technology of propulsion for years, announced the first application of this system with the Bell Nexus, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 7. The manufacturer will provide the entire power system, comprising the turbine and the electrical generator. The propulsion solution of this multi-rotor vertical takeoff and landing aircraft is capable of producing more than 600 kilowatts. During ground tests last June, the system produced 100 kilowatts and further tests will be carried out next year.
“Our goal is to fly at the beginning of 2021,” explained Saudo. The first demonstrator will carry an Arriel turbine while the final Nexus—which could enter in service by 2025—will be equipped with a new turbine specially designed for the Bell Nexus. The Hybrid-Electric Propulsion System (HEPS) is the result of a close collaboration between several subsidiaries of Safran, comprising Helicopter Engines, Safran Electrical & Power (ex-Labinal), and Safran Power Units. Safran has set a goal to become the market leader in HEPS technology by 2025.
Safran Helicopter Engines also partnered with Zunum Aero, a Seattle-area pioneer in electric aviation. Founded in 2013, Zunum Aero is funded by Boeing HorizonX, JetBlue Technology Ventures and the State of Washington Clean Energy Fund. The U.S. start-up has selected Safran’s Ardiden 3Z last October for its hybrid-to-electric commercial aircraft, which will be available in the early 2020s.
Safran Helicopter Engines will provide this evolution of the Ardiden family to drive the Zunum ZA10's electrical generator. This turbo-generator will power this 12-seat, hybrid-to-electric 700-mile commercial aircraft. However, this contract is considered by Safran as a “sleeping project,” since Zunum Aero has run into financial trouble.