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Good Vibrations

It’s arguably the most dynamic trade show of the season and this year’s version of Heli Expo, held March 5-9 in Orlando, produced its fair share of game-changing news. From extravagant launches, to new products, to special celebrations – innovation was on display in spades.


May 3, 2011
By Matt Nicholls

Topics

It’s arguably the most dynamic trade show of the season and this year’s version of Heli Expo, held March 5-9 in Orlando, produced its fair share of game-changing news. From extravagant launches, to new products, to special celebrations – innovation was on display in spades. Helicopters magazine was there and shares some highlights of this year’s event. And while the industry continues to recover from a stagnant period of growth over the past couple of years, optimism abounds for better times ahead – in Canada and around the globe.

GV1
The Bell 407GX offers an excellent blend of safety and
performance. (Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter)


Shiny New Toys
One of the most exciting aspects of any aviation show is the introduction of new aircraft, and this year’s version didn’t disappoint. New helicopters from two major OEMs – and an upstart Swiss engineering firm – made quite a splash right out of the gate.

Eurocopter got the party started with its glitzy introduction of the new EC-145 T2 twin-engine helicopter. Unveiled in dramatic style at the company’s spacious booth in front of hundreds of attendees, the new aircraft was “piloted” through a dramatic cloud of dry ice by Lutz Bertling. Four gorgeous female crew members accompanied Eurocopter’s president and CEO, who stepped out to say a few words.

“As the leading helicopter company in the world, Eurocopter has a strong commitment to innovation,” said Bertling proudly. “It’s all about customer value, it’s all about mission capability. Our understanding of innovation is to turn technology into higher customer value. This is precisely what we have done with this helicopter. With the 145 family, which started with the BK-117/EC-145, we have delivered more than 700 helicopters and flown thousands of hours – but this not a reason to stop innovating. [This new machine] will feature more power and versatility than its predecessor and continue to put us in a leadership position in this market.”

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AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi called the AW169 a “vision of the future” at this year’s Heli Expo.
(Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland)


 

The EC-145 T2 medium-light twin is an evolved version of the EC-145, incorporating new features for enhanced performance. It sports the company’s signature Fenestron tail rotor for maximum safety, powerful new Arriel 2E engines, upgraded main and tail rotor gear boxes and a new avionics suite.

And while deliveries for the new aircraft are set to begin in 2012, interest at the show was immediate – the aircraft had three U.S. operators as its launch customers: Metro Aviation, Lewis Energy Group and Leading Edge. Spain’s Inaer (10 aircraft in EMS configuration) also jumped on board.

The EC-145 T2 is expected to attract operators worldwide in EMS, SAR law enforcement and corporate sectors. Oil and gas and off-shore customers will also appreciate its nine-passenger seating capacity. It promises to be a strong addition to an already solid Eurocopter family – one, that as Bertling pointed out in his annual state-of-the-organization breakfast, will keep Eurocopter heading in the right direction.

The company experienced slow growth in 2010, showing revenues of $6.7 billion verses $6.2 billion in 2009. Some 46 per cent of Eurocopter’s deliveries went to the military sector, whereas 54 per cent went to the civilian and parapublic sector. The company claims to have a 49 per cent share of the world-wide helicopter market.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
With attendees still marvelling at the introduction of the newest member
of the Eurocopter family, Bell Helicopter grabbed attention with its
own dramatic unveiling.

Bell launched the 407GX and the 407AH – two versions of its popular 407
single, to much fanfare. The 407GX is an enhanced 407 equipped with an
innovative Garmin G1000H integrated flight deck. The new glass flight
deck provides pilots with critical flight information at a glance for
greater situational awareness, improved operational capability and
increased safety. The cockpit features, as standard, two 10.4-inch
high-resolution LCD displays with an intuitive, easy-to-scan layout and
an integrated avionics system that presents flight instrumentation,
position, navigation, communication and identification information.

“The Bell 407 was already an industry-leading helicopter offering
superior performance, exceptional passenger comfort and enhanced safety
characteristics,” said Larry Roberts, senior vice-president of
commercial business for Bell. “The 407GX’s next-generation cockpit
combined with the aircraft’s rugged airframe will make it the first
choice for those who place their highest value requirements on safety
and performance.” The 407GX represents a $125,000 upgrade over the $2.6
million base 407 model.

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Eurocopter president and CEO Lutz Bertling outlines his company’s economic performance in 2010.
(Photo by Matt Nicholls)


 

Gary Kelly, vice-president of marketing for Garmin International who
joined Roberts on the stage, said the new machine borrows many traits
from its fixed wing companions. ”While many of these features can be
found on fixed-wing aircraft, the highly-scalable G1000H takes cockpit
operations and safety technology to the next level,” he said.

One of the most impressive aspects of the 407GX cockpit display is its
big screens. These will be extremely attractive to law enforcement
operators as they can display functions such as forward-looking infrared
(FLIR) Display and camera images.

Bell also introduced its first armed commercial aircraft, the 407AH.
It’s the first Bell-qualified armed commercial aircraft across the
market and is designed to support a wide range of law enforcement and
paramilitary missions worldwide.

The 407AH comes equipped with a baseline law enforcement package that
can be customized with multiple weapon configurations. “The 407AH is a
high-performance platform with exceptional manoeuverability, speed,
payload and range,” said Roberts. “It will meet the needs of a variety
of parapublic agencies at a cost that is far less than that of a
similarly equipped military aircraft – but with increased lethality.”

Not to Be Outdone . . .
Bell and Eurocopter weren’t the only major players showcasing shiny new
hardward at the show. AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company, used Heli
Expo as its “full commercial launch” of the AW169, an eight-to-10
passenger medium/light twin. The project was first announced at the
Farnborough Airshow last year.

The multi-purpose twin is a technologically advanced aircraft capable of
carrying up to 10 passengers, or being configured for two stretchers in
a cabin accessible by sliding doors. It is powered by two
Fadec-controlled Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210 engines and has
countless safety margins with high rotor clearance – making it ideal for
a number of uses from EMS to SAR. With the first flight set for 2012,
it is expected to be in full service by 2014.

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Eurocopter president and CEO Lutz Bertling navigates the new Eurocopter EC-145 T2 during its introduction.
(Photo by Matt Nicholls)


 

AgustaWestland also showcased one of its popular AW139s at the event –
one of 10 purchased last year by Ontario-based EMS Ornge. The AW139 is
one of the company’s most popular products and continues to lure
operators from a variety of disciplines.

In a thought-provoking briefing just prior to the opening of the show,
AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi called the AW169 a “vision of the
future.” He noted the first flight is expected in 2012 with service to
begin in 2014, though he maintains 2013 is more accurate.

Orsi was quite positive while highlighting his firm’s fortunes in 2010.
The Milan, Italy-based company delivered 111 commercial helicopters last
year, its market share has grown steadily in the past five years . . .
and the future looks bright. “AgustaWestland has been growing at more
than three times the rate of market growth,” he said, “and we have room
to expand.”

Proving that one of the keys to effective leadership and innovative
thinking is keeping one’s finger on the pulse of future trends, Orsi
captured attention when discussing the future uses of rotary-winged
aircraft. When talking about growing congestion at major airports, for
example, he cited vertical flight as a possible solution. City-centre
heliports concentrating on vertical transportation with helicopters of
50-passenger capacity could help alleviate congestion.

AgustaWestland is assisting in two heliports currently under development
in Milan. Said Orsi of promoting the use of vertical flight in city
environments as a transportation option, “It’s something we must do. We
need to be more supportive of helicopters [in our cities]. . .we need to
be aware that helicopters can be an important part of the
transportation infrastructure.”

Sky Search
The Swiss are famous for hot chocolate and well, cheese. Perhaps in the
very near future you can add helicopters to that list. A Swiss
engineering firm, Marenco Swisshelicopter, unveiled its first aircraft
at the show a carbon-fibre, single-engine aircraft. The 5,200-pound
prototype SKYe SH09 will fly next year and begin customer deliveries in
2015.

The $2.6-million helicopter is powered by a single Fadec-controlled
Honeywell HTS900 engine and has a quiet five-blade rotor system – which
will generate a cruising speed of some 270 km/h and a range of 430
nautical miles. Designed for five to eight passengers, the SKYe SH09
will be most useful in parapublic, oil and gas, SAR operations and air
ambulance roles.

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Sikorsky’s supercharged X2 has reached speeds of 250 knots in flight tests.
(Photo courtesy of Sikorsky)


 

Marenco is a contract mechanical engineering firm in Pfaffikon, Switzerland that employs  a team of some 30 engineers. Its CEO, Martin Stucki, is a veteran helicopter pilot. Commercial Director Mathias Senes maintains that the aircraft is ideal for mountain rescue ambulances and air ambulances – and is designed for customers who want the cabin space of a twin with the operational capabilities of a single.

The Need for Speed
The quest for producing the fastest helicopter on the planet was also front and centre at Heli Expo.

The main contenders in the speed game are Sikosky’s supercharged X2, which has reached speeds of 250 knots in flight tests; Eurocopter’s X3, which reached 180 knots in flight tests last fall; and the nine-passenger BA609, a civil tilt-rotor helicopter being developed by Bell and AgustaWestland.

Bell Helicopter president and CEO John Garrison addressed the speed issue in his press conference, revealing that the BA609 is leading the pack in the speed game. Garrison said the nine-passenger aircraft has reached speeds of 270 knots. “The X2 and the X3 just can’t touch it,” said Garrison proudly. And how committed is Bell to the project? “Our intent is to continue to work on it,” said Garrison, adding that he hopes the aircraft will be certified in 2014.

When asked about the X3 in his press briefing, Eurocopter’s Bertling was less concerned about the speed race than about delivering optimum value. “It’s not just about the speed, we are not in a race for speed,” he said. “It’s about providing the right price point for customers.” The X3 has a variety of uses for civil operators, Bertling said, including SAR, border patrol and commercial off-shore passenger support. Military applications are also a possibility. The X3 may be in service in six years, Bertling said.

Life of the Party
Prior to attending my first Heli Expo this year, I was told not to miss the MD Helicopters press conference with the dynamic Lynn Tilton. The advice was warranted as the MD Helicopters CEO gave a detailed overview of her company’s progress in 2010 to a standing room only crowd.

MD delivered 20 helicopters in 2010 and Tilton hinted that at number of key contracts are coming to fruition in the near future for the Mesa, Ariz.-based firm, including one for 50 to 75 aircraft MD 902 Explorer twin helicopters for EMS services across six Middle Eastern countries.

Another major deal was announced just after the show: a $186 million contract from the U.S. army to supply six MD 530 F helicopters for training purposes as part of its Rotary Wing Primary Training Aircraft in Shindand, Afghanistan. As many as 54 aircraft may be delivered over the life of the four-year deal.

Tilton spoke passionately about building up the perception of American manufacturing companies in the world market and keeping Americans working. Said Tilton: “We are extremely excited about the future and keep working on our processes so we can get better and better.”

Excitement about the future and a focus on improving processes are fitting ways to capture the sentiment of this year’s event – positive vibes about the future.

Northern Reflections

  • B.C.’s Alpine Aerotech Ltd., and Alberta’s Avialta Helicopter Maintenance Ltd. and Eagle Copters Maintenance Ltd. were among 14 independently owned maintenance, repair and overhaul service providers to capture Bell Helicopter’s Platinum-level service award.
  • V. Kelner Helicopters of Thunder Bay, Ont. announced the purchase of its second AS350 B3 aircraft from Eurocopter Canada. “The selection of a second AS350 B3 was easy – the aircraft is well-suited for our operations in mineral exploration and our customers have come to count on the performance and lift capability,” said Frank Kelner, CEO. V. Kelner Helicopters was established in 2008 and began its operations with an EC-120B and in 2009 expanded with a new AS350 B3.
  • Eurocopter Canada also announced the sale of three AS350 B2s, two EC-130 B4s and one AS350 B3 aircraft to Capitale Hélipro based in Quebec City. It brings the company’s fleet to 11 aircraft: five AS350 B2s, three EC-130 B4s, two AS350 B3s and one
  • EC-120B. Capitale Hélipro’s operational base offers a wide variety of services, including; charter, sales, maintenance and helicopter flight training.
  • VIH Aviation Group Ltd. purchased 10 AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters and signed a long-term deal with Pratt & Whitney Canada to service the helicopters’ PT6C-67C engines. “Our fleet of helicopters provides a vital service to oil and gas customers who require highly reliable transportation among their various sites, including their off-shore facilities around the world,” said Ken Norie, president. “Pratt & Whitney Canada engines have been an important part of our fleet for the past 10 years, and we are pleased to see their increased presence in this important parapublic market.”
  • StandardAero celebrated its 100th anniversary at this year’s event. Originally founded as Standard Machine Works in Winnipeg in 1911, StandardAero has grown into one of the world’s largest independent repair and overhaul companies supporting the aerospace industry. A multi-faceted product line includes engine maintenance, repair and overhaul of general aviation, air transport, business aviation, military transport and, of course, helicopters. Said vice-president of helicopter programs Tom Roche: “We’re continuing to add some very impressive customers to our growing list of satisfied clients, and our partnership with Rolls-Royce has never been stronger. Our diverse customer base in military, police, EMS, corporate, tourism, oil and gas support, and utility operators has provided us with exceptional strength and resiliency to market shifts.”


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