Running in Fast Water

HELI-EXPO showcases an industry on the move
Drew McCarthy
July 09, 2007
“This industry is really in fast water right now,” says Jeff Pino, senior vice-president of corporate strategy, marketing and commercial programs at Sikorsky, and it’s doubtful that anyone who attended this year’s HELI-EXPO would disagree. The show, which took place Feb. 26-28 at the Dallas Convention Center, was abuzz with talk of new facilities, ramped-up production, expanding supply chains and increasing numbers on the books.

According to Honeywell’s Annual Turbine-Powered Civil Helicopter Purchase Outlook, civil helicopter deliveries were up a whopping 24% in 2005. And the immediate future looks every bit as bright with forecasts of up to 2,600 deliveries of civil-use helicopters over the next five years. That’s a lot of aircraft, but with most OEMs coming off strong years, everyone seems up for the challenge.

215-show For Bell Helicopter Textron, 2005 was their best year in decades. The company’s numbers for both commercial and military sales were up significantly, with substantial increases in both deliveries and backlog orders. Bell took orders for a total of 402 aircraft in 2005. Revenue grew by 28%. The year also saw an investment of US$75 million for capacity expansion with more planned for 2006. The company has already increased its footprint by more than 300,000 sq. ft. for a total of five million sq. ft.

Over this year’s three-day show, Bell took orders for 100 aircraft, nearly tripling its number from last year. On day one of the show, Bell Helicopter CEO Mike Redenbaugh revealed a mock-up of the new Bell 417 in law-enforcement configuration. The 417 is a 407-derived light-helicopter with more power, a higher payload and improved hotand- high performance.

According to Bell Helicopter 417 executive director John Ricciardelli, the Bell 417 is right on track to deliver to the customer in 2008. “We will be flying the Bell 417 prototype in April of this year and hope to complete certification in early 2008.”

Mission profiles for the 417 include corporate, EMS, utility and law-enforcement roles.

Max gross weight is set at 5,500 lbs. with a useful load of 2,667 lbs. Its OGE hover ceiling is set at 10,000 ft. The 417 is equipped with the same Honeywell HTS900 Turboshaft as used in the US Army’s new Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH). Projected performance has the 417 with engine takeoff power at 970 hp and a Vne of 140 kts. The Honeywell HTS900, yet to be certified, has already been upgraded. The engine has recently been fitted with a new dualcentrifugal compressor that provides increased thermodynamic power capability, reduced fuel consumption and allows for future engine growth within the same engine footprint.

In addition, the engine incorporates a new case-tied gas producer (GP) shroud that maintains tight clearances regardless of gas temperature. Both components were derived from Honeywell’s T800 engine program and the joint US Army/Honeywell-funded Small Heavy Fuel Engine (SHFE) demonstrator program.

With more shaft horsepower capability, the HTS900’s compressor and turbine components will have the same Service Life Limits, 15,000 cycles, previously defined by Honeywell. With its dual-channel fully automated digital electronic control (FADEC) system and dualcentrifugal compressor architecture. Honeywell’s HTS900 development program has accumulated more than 600 hours, and has been under way since 2004. Honeywell is currently running with four test and certification engines fully configured with the FADEC and case-tied GP shroud. Honeywell has also delivered all required flight test engines on schedule for Bell 417 and ARH development programs. FAA engine certification is expected in the first half of 2007.

Another highlight of this year’s show was the appearance of Eurocopter X-test pilot Didier Delsalle. If you recall, Delsalle is the intrepid test pilot who took a serial Ecureuil/Astar AS 350 B3 up 29,035 ft. to land on the summit of Mount Everest in May of 2005. Delsalle met and spoke to attendees, exhibitors and reporters, and everyone on hand had the opportunity to view the record-setting aircraft.

The historic feat has now become the marketing theme for Eurocopter’s new strategic approach. Eurocopter president and CEO Fabrice Bregier and American Eurocopter president and CEO Marc Paganini outlined the company’s ‘Peak Performance’ strategy at a breakfast press conference.

The company is committed to building a “peak performance organization in the US.” In Bregier’s words, Eurocopter intends to become a “US citizen.” In the civil/para-public market, American Eurocopter took orders for 122 aircraft in 2005 (up from 101 in 2004). This created 130 new jobs at its facility in Columbus, MS.

In addition to its expanding American presence, Bregier pointed out that Eurocopter is well on its way to transforming itself from a European company into a global company. Summarizing the company’s recent performance, Bregier reported that Eurocopter took 401 new helicopter orders in 2005. In 2005, Eurocopter generated revenues of 21 billion and employed a workforce of 12,500 worldwide.

The show saw Eurocopter’s announcement of the sale of the first Canadian-certified AS355N. Phoenix Heli-Flight, a provider of medevac, wildfire suppression, survey and exploration, and passenger/cargo transfer helicopter services in Western Canada, is buying the first Canadian-certified AS355N from Eurocopter Canada. The AS355N is a lightweight twin-engine aircraft capable of carrying one pilot and up to five passengers at a fast cruising speed of 120 kts. It is equipped with two FADEC Turbomeca ARRIUS 1A turbine engines. Great Slave Helicopters also announced the purchase of six new Eurocopter helicopters (see sidebar).

Eurocopter is not the only company focusing on the US market, which represents about 1/3 of the worldwide civil turbine helicopter market. AgustaWestland announced that it is also anxious to make more inroads into the US. The company has made significant investments in developing a production capability in the US: A total of 175 employees are currently working at AAC in Philadelphia. The A119 line is now in operation and delivering aircraft and the AW139 assembly line is currently under development. Following the acquisition in November 2005 of the 100% ownership of all aspects of the AB139 program, the 139 has been re-branded AW139.

AgustaWestland’s expanding presence in the Canadian market was noted at the show as Finmeccanica announced that Agusta Aerospace Corp. has signed a contract with Skyline Helicopters for an A119 Koala. Skyline Helicopters is a charter helicopter company, specializing in heli-skiing, based in Terrace, BC. Skyline will also use the A119 Koala for geo-seismic assessment and research and heli-ski operations.

After making a short statement on the labour action at Sikorsky (in its third week as of HELICOPTERS press time), Jeff Pino noted that Sikorsky’s revenues for 2005 had risen to US$2.8 billion – the largest in the company’s history.

“The commercial business is where Sikorsky has seen unprecedented growth over the last couple of years,” Pino said. Last year the company delivered 49 commercial aircraft, a mix of S92s and S76s that took the company to a little over US$600 million.

Pino suggested that in 2006, Sikorsky could be #1 in terms of revenue dollars in the commercial market. At the end of last year the company certified its S-76C++ and started deliveries immediately.

The company is counting on the expected success of the S-76D to increase its penetration in the civil market. Sikorsky has selected Pratt & Whitney for its engine and the S-76D will be equipped with the PW210S turboshaft engine.

The PW210S is a new-generation turboshaft engine in the 1,000-shp class for single and intermediate/medium category twin-engine helicopters. PW210 development is progressing on schedule to achieve engine firstrun in the third-quarter of 2006 with engine certification by mid- 2008. The engine incorporates advances in compressor design technology and turbine materials designed to improve power-toweight ratio and fuel consumption. The PW210S also incorporates a dual channel, full authority digital electronic control (FADEC) system with state-of-the-art diagnostics capability. The PW210S is currently under development with the preliminary design review being completed last December.

The S76-D also boasts the Thales TopDeck helicopter avionics suite. In a press conference, Phil Naybour, vicepresident in charge of helicopter solutions at Thales, noted that this is the first time the French company has been selected by an American airframer for a complete avionics suite.

The TopDeck S-76D suite will feature a three-in-one integrated electronic standby instrument and a 6"x8" flat-panel LCD vertical display (predicted to become the new standard display size for civilian aircraft). The S-76D will also be one of the first civilian helicopters to come equipped with a trackball for interfacing the TopDeck interactive digital moving map.

System interfaces for the S-76D TopDeck suite have not yet been finalized, but Naybour stressed that the open architecture will accommodate a variety of display formats including synthetic vision and mission-specific data. The S-76D project is of key importance for Thales in its effort to extend its partnership with Sikorsky. Deliveries of the S-76D are planned to begin in late 2008.

Thales has teamed up with Turbomeca to launch the development of a new Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC). Combining Turbomeca’s turbine production and control expertise with Thales’s expertise in design and production of on-board electronic equipment, the project will focus on significant weight reduction and less power consumption, resulting in increased reliability and global helicopter availability.

The Robinson Helicopter Co. jumped the gun in the “everybody`s got a good news story” department by announcing its industry recordbreaking year in January. The company manufactured 806 new civil helicopters in 2005, breaking the record of 780 set by the venerable Bell Helicopter Textron in 1980. As the year came to a close, Robinson completed another milestone in 2005 – delivery of its 4,000th R22.

Frank Robinson, president and CEO of the company, held a lively press conference discussing the company’s recent success and plans for the future. Although Robinson expressed some reluctance in promoting the R22 as a training aircraft, he believes that the market for the R22 as a trainer will always be there. The company now plans to focus on promoting the four-seater R44 Raven I over the R22 Beta II to flight schools.

Lycoming Engines had its new valve-train roller tappet technology on display at the show. The roller tappets replace flat solid valve lifters. The roller tappets eliminate the sliding motion between the cam and tappet, improving wear and allowing the introduction of more advanced materials. The roller tappet lifters are also designed to make for smoother flying. The technology, first announced last summer, is designed for use on applicable OEM-supplied, factory-overhauled or rebuilt 320, 360, 540, 580 and 720 series engines. Lycoming engines incorporating the new roller tappet lifters will soon be headed to Schweizer Helicopters for use in the company’s new production aircraft.

Like Eurocopter and AugustaWestland, Turbomeca has also set its sights on the US market. The company is coming off a record production year in 2005 with plans to increase both production capacity and support capabilities stateside.

Turbomeca has allocated approximately US$50 million for facilities, equipment and parts procurement to beef up production and support in the US. The investment includes a US$10 million 67,000 sq. ft. expansion that will enlarge its facility in Grand Prairie, Texas to 137,000 sq. ft. and increase its employee count from 180 to 330.

At a press breakfast, Turbomeca president Emeric d’Arcimoles told reporters, “We are seeing the global recognition of the influence of helicopter transport. That growth is affecting all manufacturers and all classes of helicopters.”

Turbomeca’s production increased 44% in 2005, with forecasts pointing to a further increase of 40% in 2006. D’Arcimoles says that the strong North American economy has given operators here a high degree of confidence in the continuing success of their operations. “And the developing world,” he added, “has embraced the helicopter with countries such as China and India emerging as markets for hundreds of new helicopters.”

Describing what he termed “the new Turbomeca,” d’Arcimoles told his audience that in the past Tubomeca was set up to primarily serve the European and North American markets. The company was structured to produce 500 to 600 engines per year. The new Turbomeca is broadening its focus. Last year the company built 864 for the global market. This year it will build 1,200 engines and plans to produce at least that number annually into the foreseeable future.

D’Arcimoles’ presentation was thought-provoking and optimistic. His comments perhaps best sum up the mood of HELIEXPO 2006. “It’s a new world for the helicopter industry,” he said, “and manufacturers and helicopter operators are enjoying the fruits of the industry’s surplus.” He went on to say that, “every manufacturer and every customer, regardless of the equipment they fly, is experiencing the strain of growth.”

Indeed, the industry risks becoming a victim of its own success. All of the positive activity out there will sooner or later lead to both raw material and supply-chain shortages. Increasing spares capacity will also need to become a priority for OEMs. The challenges for the entire helicopter industry are evident, but then again, so are the rewards.

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