Not Just California Dreamin’
In an interview with Helicopters magazine just prior to Heli-Expo 2014 in Anaheim, Calif. Feb. 25-27
By Matt Nicholls
In an interview with Helicopters magazine just prior to Heli-Expo 2014 in Anaheim, Calif. Feb. 25-27, Bell Helicopter Canada president Barry Kohler hinted at several new projects his company was engaged in that were sure to pique the interests of operators nationwide and around the world.
|In a lavish Cirque du Soleil-type montage, AgustaWestland unveiled its new AW109 Trekker.
“I just can’t tell you yet, Matt,” Barry teased me, “but it will be a game changer.” Well now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, it certainly looks like Barry’s words will come to fruition.
With its ongoing commitment to innovation and a determination to solidify its position as one of the world’s most creative and versatile OEMs, Bell introduced it’s newest model, the 505 Jet Ranger X, on the second day of the show. In typical Bell fashion at the greatest helicopter show on earth, the back-to-basics short light single (SLS) concept was introduced amidst all the light, music and hoopla of a Superbowl half-time show with Bell CEO John Garrison at the mike. Bell just wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Bell Helicopter changed the face of the industry nearly 50 years ago with the introduction of the legendary Jet Ranger,” Garrison told a boisterous crowd of several hundred attendees. “Today we reveal the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, the high-performance, high-value aircraft our customers have been asking for in this category. Not only is the Bell 505 competitively priced, it offers a combination of features, capabilities and support customers have come to expect from Bell Helicopter.”
Bell’s new offering – technically first revealed without a name at the 2013 Paris Air Show – should be a strong player in the Canadian market as it will be both affordable and adaptable to many operations particularly utility roles, corporate and training. The five-seat, single-engine, turbine will boast a cruise speed of 125 knots, range of 360 nautical miles and useful load of 1,500 pounds. It will also have a flat floor, increased cabin volume (61-cubic metres) and clam shell doors that will provide customers with configuration flexibility. It also features the Garmin G1000H Integrated Avionics Suite, which gives pilots critical flight information at a glance to maximize situational awareness. Pilot workload is further reduced by the Turbomeca Arrius 2R engine with dual channel Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC).
|Bell Helicopter president and CEO John Garrison introduces Bell’s back to basics 505 Jet Ranger X. (Photos by Matt Nicholls)
The 505, like Bell’s 19,300 pound (maximum gross weight) 525 super medium Relentless introduced with similar pomp and circumstance at Heli-Expo in Dallas, Tex. two years ago, was developed in concert with a customer advisory council to ensure all design elements closely matched operator needs. The Relentless, designed predominantly for the oil and gas market, was also on hand in Anaheim as was the 429 light twin with geared landing gear, providing a perfect display of where Bell is headed in the future. The 407GX was also in tow.
“It’s an exciting time to be at Bell Helicopter, working side-by-side with our customers to create the next generation of vertical lift,” Garrison said. “Throughout our entire planning and development process, we are engaging our customers. They are providing us with actionable insights about how we can improve our products and what they will need for their missions in the coming years. This input has been invaluable in ensuring we deliver the products our customers need to be successful.”
No doubt with the new 505, Bell is well on its way to ensuring its continued success and growth in the future. Results from the show certainly reinforced this point – Bell garnered 171 letters of intent from operators for the new 505 Jet Ranger; 10 letters of intent for the 525 Relentless; eight for the 407GX; five for the 412EP; and two for the 429.
Trekking it to Success
Not to be outdone in the high stakes game of dramatic helicopter introductions and heightening brand awareness, AgustaWestland employed the services of several twirling Cirque du Soleil dancers to showcase its new offering, the AW109 Trekker. The new aircraft is the first light-twin from AgustaWestland to offer skid landing gear.
|Bell’s new five-seat 505 Jet Ranger X has real appeal for the Canadian market.
(Photo Courtesy of Bell Helicopter)
With a maximum take off weight of 3,175 kilograms (7,000 pounds) and 3,200 kg. (7,055 lb.) with external loads and more than 1,500 kg. (3,306 lb.) of useful load together with a class leading cruise speed (160 knots/296 km/h), the AW109 Trekker may have the highest productivity in the light-twin turbine helicopter market.
The aircraft can accommodate up to eight passengers including the pilot and can serve a variety of missions including EMS, utility, SAR, law enforcement, and passenger transport. For the emergency medical configuration, the aircraft can accommodate up to six passengers or one stretcher with three/four medical attendants or two stretchers and two medical attendants. The aircraft is powered by a pair of Fadec-equipped Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207C 815-shp engines and has a maximum cruise speed of 154 knots.
The AW109 Trekker also includes the Garmin G1000HTM glass cockpit to enhance situational awareness and safety. The advanced avionics package includes Integrated Helicopter Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT) functionality with the Highway In The Sky (HITS) depiction and the Integrated Helicopter Terrain Avoidance Warning System (HTAWS) with a worldwide terrain and obstacle database. AgustaWestland says it will produce the AW109 Trekker at its plants in Philadelphia and Italy and certification and first delivery of the Trekker is expected next year.
The introduction of the AW109 Trekker is just another positive step for AgustaWestland, which is trying to distance itself from an ugly scandal with the Indian government in 2013 that led to the resignation of several key members of the upper management team. The investigation is ongoing. New CEO Daniele Romiti commented at Heli-Expo that he is very positive about the future of his company, though he spent a good part of his time in 2013 protecting the integrity of his firm. Recently, he has been able to focus on the development of key projects, such as the AW119k, the AW169 and perhaps his favourite, the tiltrotor AW609, which made the trek to Anaheim for the show.
“My goals were very different at that time [in March 2013],” he told AIN, the Heli-Expo show daily. “We had to face quite a challenging period with reputation issues, and this resulted in strong activity to reinforce our internal organization to deal with compliances issues. The new and updated procedures have resulted in a better approach.”
Key drivers for the company continue to be the oil and gas sector, EMS and more, and with the EASA certification of the AW189 in February, the AW169 later this year (with projected entry into service in the first quarter of 2015), the future looks bright. With its solid family of offerings, Romiti’s goal of getting the company headed in the right direction seems sound.
“With all of these new platforms you will see how much improved technology we have added especially in the models such as the AW169,” he said. “It has a completely new architecture in terms of dynamic components in the rotors and new touchscreen technologies in the cockpit.”
Romiti is also excited about the AW609’s potential. “There will be a fundamentally new application here because we are targeting a very attractive price for very complex technology,” he said. “I am quite convinced when the tiltrotor gets into the mindset of operators, they will realize how it can meet their future needs.”
Shooting for Better Service
Undergoing a company rebrand is always a complicated undertaking, but it certainly helps when your parent company is one of the strongest players in the aviation community. That’s precisely where Airbus Helicopters sits and with its new name, relatively new president and CEO and new company focus, Airbus is poised for great things in 2014.
|The AgustaWestland AW609 tiltrotor aircraft wowed the crowds at this years Heli-Expo in Anaheim.
(Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland)
Results at Heli-Expo echoed this objective, as 78 bookings underscored the competitiveness of the company’s product line – with acquisitions covering rotorcraft that range from the EC225 and the AS350 B2 and B3e, to the next-generation EC175, along with the new EC145 T2 and the evolved EC225e and AS332 C1e versions.
Guillaume Faury, the aforementioned new head of Airbus Helicopters, explained at the annual Heli-Expo press breakfast that Airbus is dedicating more resources this year to its customer service initiatives and hopes to enhance its commitment to operators worldwide. It’s a sound strategy and will work to further solidify the firm’s growth in the world market.
“It is time for new priorities,” Faury said. “We simply need to do better.” Along these lines, Airbus is spending several million dollars in 2014 on customer support solutions and has revealed several new broad-based initiatives to solve key problems. Making its web-based customer service portals more effective, doubling investments in IT systems and finding ways to streamline parts distribution are some of the objectives going forward. The company is also launching an online catalogue of helicopter service bulletins and STCs that operators can access worldwide. Driving down maintenance costs on all of its helicopters also remains a priority, Faury said, particularly on the EC175 and EC225, both aimed at the offshore oil and gas markets.
In terms of safety, Airbus plans to install flight data and video recorders in all of its smaller helicopters as standard equipment and install cockpit voice recorders in its medium and heavy helicopters. On the product development side, Faury unveiled plans for two new variants of the EC225e and the AS322C 1e and talked about the company’s plans for its high-speed X4 medium twin. The first flight of the X4 is slated for 2015. In 2013, Airbus posted revenues of $8.33 billion delivering 497 helicopters worldwide, up from 475 in 2012.
Dealing With a “Mixed Bag”
One of the most compelling and engaging presentations at Heli-Expo 2014 was Sikorsky’s “Technology Meets Tradition” session on the second day of the show. Sergei Sikorsky, son of company founder Igor Sikorsky, described the company’s past achievements, success stories and more in a truly compelling presentation. From the early prototype of the VS-300 to the CH-53 to today’s technologically advanced S-76D and the S-97 Raider, it was a truly memorable look at one company’s successful development in aviation.
|Sikorsky is seeing strong growth in the oil and gas market, meaning its S-76D is getting plenty of attention.
(Photo courtesy of Sikorsky)
Earlier in the show at his annual State of Sikorsky press conference, Sikorsky president Mick Maurer discussed a 2013 that he essentially called a “mixed bag.” While the company hit a record backlog of $15 billion, it also recorded an 8 per cent drop in sales, mostly attributable to a drop off in the U.S. government’s order book.
On the commercial side, Sikorsky is currently experiencing growth in several new markets including China, which Maurer notes has taken more than $300 million in orders due to a strong growth in the oil and gas markets. China is also where the frame for the S-76D is being manufactured; the technically advanced aircraft recently made its entry into service.
Touching on the much-maligned CH-148 Cyclone program with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Maurer was adamant that the federal government’s endorsement of the program late in 2013 will spur new life into the project. There were rumblings plans were in the works to rethink the Sea King replacement project and move on from the Cyclone.