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Running at Maximum Power

One year after the avalanche of activities that characterized the 2006 show in Dallas, Heli-Expo 2007 confirmed that the industry is still operating at maximum power.


May 29, 2007
By Drew McCarthy
 
 
 
 
 

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One year after the avalanche of activities that characterized the 2006
show in Dallas, Heli-Expo 2007 confirmed that the industry is still
operating at maximum power. With overflowing order books, manufacturers
right across the board are focusing on streamlining processes and
bulking up production capacity – all the while still producing
airframes, engines and everything else, as fast as they possibly can.

With
sales expanding everywhere, the major manufacturers are all reporting
significant order backlogs: Eurocopter – US$14.5 billion,
AgustaWestland – US$11.23 billion, and Bell Textron, US$3.1 billion.
The pressure to deliver the goods on time to waiting customers is
pervasive.

Engine maker Turbomecca is facing the challenge head
on. At a Heli-Expo press conference, the company reported that it
produced 1,087 engines in 2006 (up 25% over the previous year).

With
so much more on the horizon, the company has set a target of doubling
its U.S. capacity to 550 new engines assembled and tested by the end of
2007. It also plans to open a new production facility somewhere in the
eastern part of the U.S. that will be operational by the end of 2008.

On
this side of the border, Turbomeca Canada has been awarded the
corporate mandate for worldwide tooling support. The company will
invest US$1million in the project and add 3,200 sq. ft. to its existing
facility in Quebec.

Meanwhile, in the category of worst-kept
secrets going into the show, Rolls-Royce Ltd. officially announced that
it will supply its new turboshaft RR300 engine to power Robinson
Helicopter Co.’s new R66 rotorcraft.

Rolls-Royce has designed
the new engine as a replacement for piston engines in light helicopters
and general aviation aircraft. Optimized for performance in the 240-300
shp power range, the engine promises lower acquisition and operating
costs because of its size, specific fuel consumption and embedded
engine monitoring system.

Rolls-Royce expects FAA type
certification by 2008 with fullrate production to follow. Under its
agreement with the Robinson Helicopter Co., Rolls-Royce will provide
several hundred RR300 engines in upcoming years.

Robinson’s new
R66 model is the company’s first venture into gas turbine-powered
rotorcraft. Frank Robinson is positioning the aircraft as a replacement
for retiring JetRangers. The aircraft will hold five people and
Robinson says that he hopes to keep the price tag down to under the
US$1 million mark.

In addition to the deal with Robinson,
Rolls-Royce has also signed MOUs with Schweizer Aircraft, Enstrom
Helicopters, and MD Helicopters Inc. to discuss future applications for
the RR300 engine family. (The Enstrom 480B helicopter is currently
powered by the RR Model 250 engine and MD Helicopters produces several
rotorcraft powered by the Model 250, including the MD520, MD530 and
MD600.)

Pratt & Whitney Canada announced a deal with
Eurocopter to use the PT6C-67E to power the EC175/Z15 medium-sized
helicopter, being developed by Eurocopter and Harbin Aviation Industry
Group. The PT6C-67E engine, already installed on the Agusta Westland
AW139 helicopter and Bell/Agusta Aerospace BA609 Tiltrotor, is now
equipped with a dual-channel fullauthority digital electronic control
(FADEC) system.

The EC175 is expected to enter service in 2011.

Eurocopter
continues to show very strong sales in Canada with a number of
announcements at the show, most notably that CHC has entered into a
contract with the company to deliver 16 new EC225s.

In
addition to this, JB Air Inc., a Calgary-based helicopter operator that
specializes in aerial firefighting, has purchased an EC 130B4. The
aircraft will be used primarily for firefighting, but will also serve
as a transport helicopter as needed.

Eurocopter Canada also
reported that Provincial Helicopters Ltd. of Lac du Bonnet, Man., is
purchasing a Eurocopter AS 350B3 for firefighting and exploration
missions. And, Whitney Helicopters, a new oil and gas exploration
service being launched in Fort St. John, B.C., is purchasing two
Eurocopter EC120Bs and one AS350BS to form its initial fleet. The two
EC120s are due for delivery in 2008, while the AS350B3 will be
delivered in 2009.

Eurocopter has also delivered a new AS 350B3
to the RCMP, the seventh to join the RCMP’s fleet of 38 rotor and
fixed-wing aircraft – and have exercised their option to buy an eighth.

AgustaWestland
unveiled its new AW119 Ke – Koala enhanced, an evolution of the A119
Koala. The new AW119 Ke has an increased Maximum Take-Off Weight of
2,850 Kg/6,283 lb and is powered by a Pratt & Whitney 1,002-shp
turbine engine. All of the upgrades incorporated into the AW119 Ke can
be retrofitted to AW119 Koalas already in service. Toronto’s Peter
Gilgan, CEO of Mattamy Corp., has recently purchased an AW119 Ke.

British
Columbia-based London Air Services signed a contract for a third AW139.
The third VIP configured helicopters will complement its current air
charter fleet.

Meanwhile, in a move already anticipated in
certain quarters, Bell Helicopter Textron announced the cancellation of
its 417 program. In a press briefing on the first day of the show,
Robert Fitzpatrick, senior vice-president of marketing and sales, told
reporters that the aircraft would not have been a big differentiator in
the marketplace. The 417 was trumpeted out, with great fanfare, for the
first time at last year’s Heli-Expo in Dallas.

News of the
cancellation was tempered by the announcement that Bell’s new 429
GlobalRanger light-twin had made its first one-hour flight earlier in
the week in Mirabel, Que.

Echoing the mood of the industry from
Bell’s perspective, Fitzpatrick says, “The increased demand for
vertical lift aircraft continued to grow in 2006 and we expect the
trend to continue and even accelerate in 2007.”

On the last day
of Heli-Expo 2007 (March 1-3) the total sales announced were in excess
of US$730 million. With all of the major manufacturers reporting record
growth, and continually expanding markets in China, India and the
Middle East, the worldwide helicopter industry shows no sign of slowing
down any time soon.


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