Helicopters Magazine

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Highlighting Heli-Expo

May 16, 2013  By Matt Nicholls

If the 2012 version of helicopter’s greatest show on earth in “Big D”  was all about a heaping portion of Texas style, this year’s rendition of Heli-Expo March 4-7 in Las Vegas will best be remembered for its substance.

If the 2012 version of helicopter’s greatest show on earth in “Big D”  was all about a heaping portion of Texas style, this year’s rendition of Heli-Expo March 4-7 in Las Vegas will best be remembered for its substance.

Sikorsky’s successful S-92 program is helping it ride into 2013 in good shape financially. (Photo courtesy of Cougar Helicopters)


Just exactly how much substance? Well, the numbers never lie and final tallies showed 20,393 attendees (an all-time record), 60 helicopters on display and some 736 exhibitors . . . impressive numbers all, illustrating there’s definitely strong revitalization in the international helicopters marketplace.

And while this year’s event may have lacked the panache of some previous shows for its lack of lavish big-name new product announcements from large OEMs, the order books showed the serious bidders came to Vegas to put their chips on the table. Major OEMS such as AgustaWestland, Eurocopter, Bell and Sikorsky, all posted impressive orders – Sikorsky led the way with 96 – while smaller OEMS such as Enstrom, newcomer Marenco SwissHeilcopter, MD Helicopters and Robinson also made their mark.

Heli-Expo just wouldn’t be Heli-Expo without the annual press briefing by MD Helicopters’ president/CEO Lynn Tilton. This year, the flamboyant MD Helicopters’ boss showed off her patriotic best in this mini camo ensemble while extolling the virtues of the company’s latest offerings. (Photo by Matt Nicholls)


Large oil and gas and leasing companies were the stars of the show, with the world’s largest helicopter provider, Bristow Helicopters, getting things going by confirming its earlier letter of intent with Eurocopter for 12 EC175s, plus an unspecified number of options for more. Bristow is the U.S. launch company of the EC175. Eurocopter also scored big with an impressive buy from Dublin, Ireland-based leasing company, the Milestone Aviation Group. The Milestone order padded the Eurocopter order haul with up to 15 Eurocopter EC225 Super Pumas and five EC175s. These deals represented the most significant of Eurocopter’s 69-order total over the duration of the show.

In addition to scoring some good order numbers, Eurocopter was one of the only OEMs to make a significant splash in terms of introducing a new product: the EC135 T3/P3. The new light twin offers optimized Fadec software, longer rotor blades and a change in the location of the air intake. This results in 66-pound increase in mtow, and improved hot/high performance (an additional 440 pounds of payload at 1,500 metres ISA +20.) The new model also features extended range, new interior design, Bluetooth headsets and a new life raft system. The new machine will be popular with emergency medical transport firms who need the extra space, power, stability and range to ensure safe and secure patient transport.

Still Acting Relentless
While it didn’t steal the show with lavish announcements as it did last year in Dallas with the 525 Relentless, Bell Helicopter had a successful show with 50 orders, a significant portion of those coming when Air Medical Holdings confirmed a landmark deal for 30 helicopters – 24 Bell 407 and six Bell 206 L4 helicopters.

Bell Helicopter president John Garrison is seeking to increase civil helicopter sales in the months and years ahead.
(Photo by Matt Nicholls)


“These new aircraft will allow us to provide increased access to emergency healthcare in the communities we serve. We chose the Bell 407 for its proven performance, which is essential to get our patients to safety as quickly as possible. The dependable and reliable Bell 206L-4 is ready to go when duty calls,” said Fred Buttrell, CEO of Air Medical Group Holdings and Med-Trans Corporation. It marked one of the largest deals in Heli-Expo history.

Bell president John Garrison made it known during the show that his company is on a mission to get firmly get back to a position of strength in the civilian market, which represented some 40 per cent of its overall sales in 2012. “We want to reduce our dependence on military sales, particularly the U.S. military, by growing the share of the civilian sector,” said Garrison. Bell plans to continue to make improvement to existing production lines in 2013, and is waiting with anticipation of the first flight of the 525 Relentless in 2014.

The Sikorsky Way
Sikorsky was not to be outdone in the order barrage, and ultimately ended up with the most successful order haul of all the major OEMS, with 96. The largest of these came on the show’s second day when Milestone continued its fleet overhaul with the addition of 30 new Sikorsky S-92A and S-76D helicopters with options for 24 more.

Sikorsky president Mick Maurer must have been particularly pleased with his company’s order haul at Heli-Expo 2013.
(Photo by Matt Nicholls)


Milestone CEO Richard Santulli said the changing nature of the global offshore oil business, drilling deeper wells at greater distances from shore, has changed the nature of the helicopter business supporting the industry and created more leasing demand.

Speaking at the annual State of Sikorsky press briefing, president Mick Maurer was pleased to report his firm is riding a wave of steady growth and $14 billion in sales in 2012, placing the firm on the right track – and they’re gaining momentum. On the commercial side, the S-76D is now in production and production is nearly sold out through 2014. He also sees growth prospects for the S-92, which continues to be a key player in the oil and gas market. Maurer suggests this sector will account for a significant portion of the company’s business in the next few years, with the main interests coming from companies in Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Welcoming a New Face
While there no significant new product announcements from AgustaWestland at this year’s show, there was a new face – and everyone was dying to hear him address the fallout following the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, the former CEO of the company who was arrested before the show for allegedly being paid bribes to secure the sale of 12 helicopters to the government of India.

In a surprise announcement, Lutz Bertling stepped down as Eurocopter president/CEO just days after Heli-Expo to join Bombardier Aerospace as president/CEO of Berlin-based Bombardier Transportation. (Photo by Matt Nicholls)


Daniele Romiti faced the media during AgustaWestland’s annual media dinner the night before the show’s opening and emphatically defended his company’s position as being “openly transparent” during the investigations into the alleged criminal activity surrounding the government of India case. Said Romiti: “There has been no wrongdoing by the company and we are confident of that.”

Romiti noted that AgustaWestland continues to see a bright future for its highly successful family line of AW139, AW169, and AW189 products and said it will work hard in 2013 to take full advantage of the growing global demand in the offshore oil and gas business, particularly in South America, Brazil, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

The continuing development of the tiltrotor AW609 program in 2013 will also be a key priority for the company. AgustaWestland assumed full ownership of the project in 2011, buying out its partnership with Bell Helicopter, and work continues to bring the helicopter to market by 2017. A third prototype of the aircraft is currently under construction in Italy. The aircraft is in its third decade of development.

Making Noise the Northern Way
It’s always exciting when Canadian companies and individuals make an impact on such an important world stage, and this year’s show didn’t disappoint. Here’s a shortlist of some noteworthy people that impressed at this year’s show:

Canadian Helicopters’ base pilot Heather Pelley was the proud winner of the Whirly Girls Memorial Flight Training scholarship. (Photo by Matt Nicholls)


Canadian Helicopters’ base pilot Heather Pelley captured the Whirly Girls Memorial Flight Training scholarship. The scholarship is funded by the Whirly Girls in memory of its founder, Jean Phelan and her husband, Jim, and Doris Mullen, who lost her life in a fixed-wing accident in 1968. The scholarship provides Pelley with $6,000 to be used toward her advanced helicopter rating (typically toward instrument ATP or turbine transition rating). Pelley currently holds her Glider and Fixed-Wing Certificate as well as her commercial helicopter licence. She is endorsed in the EC120, EC130, Bell 206 and Robinson R22 and R44. This award will help her achieve either vertical reference training or an IFR licence. Pelley was shocked to win, noting that she wasn’t even sure if the American organization would recognize her achievements. “I said, ‘why not,’ gave it a shot and look what happened?” Pelley is definitely a resourceful and dedicated young pilot, and she’s making a name for herself in a competitive, male-dominated field.

Sergey Mikheev, president of the Helicopter Industry Association and general designer of the Kamov design bureau, with Ken Norie, president/CEO of the VIH Aviation Group.
(Photo by Matt Nicholls)


Ken Norie, president/CEO of the VIH Aviation Group, has always been a staunch supporter of the Kamov helicopter brand. As noted in Paul Dixon’s piece “From Russia With Love” in the January/February 2013 issue of Helicopters, Norie’s commitment to using the Kamov KA-32A11BCs for everything from heli-logging work to fire fighting, has helped VIH gain international recognition for its use of the fleet. In fact, VIH’s three KA-32A11BC aircraft are the highest tour-operating Russian helicopters in the world. To commemorate the company’s achievements, Sergey Mikheev, president of the Helicopter Industry Association and general designer of the Kamov design bureau, presented a special award to Norie during the annual “Russian Hour” to honour the company’s steadfast support of the Kamov brand.

president/CEO Guy Joannes (left) helps the team from Phoenix Heli-Flight
celebrate its latest fleet additions – two new AS 350 B2s, an EC135
twin-engine aircraft and a MOU for the first Canadian EC145 T2. Joining
Joannes are chief pilot Darrel Peters, vice-president Andrea Spring and
president/CEO Paul Spring.
(Photo by Matt Nicholls)


Pheonix-Heli Flight made a splash at this year’s event with its purchase of two new AS 350 B2s, an EC135 twin engine aircraft and a MOU for the first Canadian EC145 T2. The B2s, a favourite of the company and popular with clients, will be used for a variety of utility roles. Pheonix-Heli Flight president Paul Spring said one of the main drivers for the purchase of the EC135 twin is to support the company’s growing EMS operation. The EC135 will be a dedicated Emergency Response Helicopter, serving the northeast region of Alberta. “Our limitation has been that with the equipment we have, we can only run daytime VFR rules in Canada. So we needed to go to a bigger machine, so we could work in a nighttime environment and still have room for the patients. But we are a utility operator, we are not strictly medical, we do work for the RCMP, missing people SAR, SWAT team issues. We also work for the environmental side of the oil industry and they need quick access if they had a pipeline break or a spill or a remote access issue that they couldn’t deal with right away. This helicopter will get them there. It’s going to enhance the company and make us very attractive to pilots and potential clients.”

With champagne glass firmly planted in hand, Pratt & Whitney president John Saabas joined a healthy crowd in saluting the venerable PT6 family of engines, which are celebrating a 50-year anniversary in 2013. More than 6,500 operators in 82 countries rely on the PT6 for its dependability and power. And when it comes to power, the current PT6A, is four times more powerful than the original model. The PT6 is also one of the safest engines out there, with a current in-flight shutdown rate of one event per one million hours.

Several Canadians were recognized at this year’s Salute to Excellence Awards, the annual awards ceremony that honours achievement and professionalism within the industy. Making the grade this year: AgustaWestland Safety Award, Greg Whyte, Vice President, Systems Operations, CHC Helicopter; Eurocopter Golden Zero Award, Dr. Gregory Powell, O.C., Founder and Director Emeritus, Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS); Excellence in Communications Award, Shawn Corwyn Coyle, Director of Training, Marinvent Corp.; Pilot of the Year Award, Rudei Hafen, Commerical Pilot, HTSC/Niagara Helicopters Ltd. 


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