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Shattering Records in Houston: HAI Convention 2008

March 31, 2008  By Ken Armstrong

The 2008 HAI Heli-Expo in Houston shattered reams of records. Attendance exceeded 17,000, virtually all manufacturers were there in abundance with fleets of helicopters, and operators were lining up to buy new machines totalling billions of dollars. Big money and surprises might have been the theme this year, as Canada’s CHC Helicopter Corp. was sold to an American consortium, First Reserve Corp., with an effective purchase price of $3.7 billion.

The 2008 HAI Heli-Expo in Houston shattered reams of records. Attendance exceeded 17,000, virtually all manufacturers were there in abundance with fleets of helicopters, and operators were lining up to buy new machines totalling billions of dollars. Big money and surprises might have been the theme this year, as Canada’s CHC Helicopter Corp. was sold to an American consortium, First Reserve Corp., with an effective purchase price of $3.7 billion.

Eurocopter uncloaked its new EC175 heavy twin, which is a natural
for the offshore oil market. VIH Aviation Group became the first
Canadian customer, with first deliveries slated for 2011.
Eurocopter’s new EC175 will boast the latest in avionics and special-mission adaptability.
MD Helicopters’ Lynn Tilton has turned  the company around –  the
company has leapfrogged from #9 in customer satisfaction to #2.
Sikorsky Aircraft’s proof-of-concept demonstrator, the co-axial X2.

For many, this was the most exciting and successful convention ever.  Perhaps Sikorsky’s success serves as an example. It has jumped from the #4 helicopter producer by doubling sales revenues in five years to secure the #2 position with a posted order backlog of more than $16 billion! Even its subsidiary, Schweizer, showed a sales increase of 267 per cent since 2002 with 80 machines sold in 2007. Sikorsky added that it has signed a five-year contract with the U.S. military for $7.5 billion and will introduce a CH 53K version which will increase the “E” model’s useful load from 10,000 pounds to 27,000 – now that’s product enhancement! After 40 years in this industry, this scribe must admit that the company president, Jeff Pino, is the sharpest helicopter manufacturer that I’ve seen. The company has created a sleek speedster with counter-rotating rotor and tail-mounted propeller as a proof-of-concept demonstrator which this magazine will be reporting on soon. It is expected the X2 and its potential derivatives will achieve speeds in excess of 250+ knots and presumably become a competitor to the Bell Tiltrotor. 

MD Helicopters’ Lynn Tilton made several appearances and her presentations were generally well received and impressive. There is no doubt that she has turned the company around. Her attention to detail has borne amazing success as the company has leapfrogged from #9 in customer satisfaction to #2!  Listening to her end-users has resulted in the creation of improved rotor blades for the 500 series and the 902 twin envelope expansion to a cruise speed of 132 knots as high as 14,000 feet.  Additionally, 500Es can now be converted to the impressive 530F model at the factory as Tilton improves vertical integration with bringing more of the work back to the factory. On that note, she has announced an imminent move from the undersized Mesa, Ariz. facility to accommodate greatly expanding sales and service. Moreover she is planning to buy a VLJ company and create an aerospace empire. Stay tuned.

Eurocopter uncloaked its new EC175 with first deliveries slated for 2011 and VIH Aviation Group became the first Canadian customer. With a capacity for 16 passengers and range exceeding 200 nm, the heavy twin is a natural for the offshore oil market. The airframes will be produced by Harbin Aviation in China and the helicopter will boast the latest in avionics and special-mission adaptability. Continuing to lead the rotary-wing market in sales, Eurocopter sold a billion dollars worth of helicopters at HAI. Eurocopter is moving to improve its previously lagging customer support program with expanded support in the U.S. by improving operations in Fort Worth, Tex. to provide a 93-per cent overnight parts order fill rate from 85-per cent ten years ago. A new support facility in Long Beach, Calif. is now operating with new facilities planned in the northeast corridor and West Palm Beach, Fla.


Bell had lots of news. Bob Fitzpatrick observed that growth in anti-terrorism and offshore operations had grown the world market to $24 billion yearly.  Augmenting this growth is a need to replace 25,000 helicopters that are reaching the end of their service life and these factors will require worldwide production of 900 helicopters yearly. Bell sold 181 machines in 2007, ramping up a $3.5-billion backlog. Bell’s current strategies are: upgrades for the 206 L4, modernization of the 407 including glass cockpits, and upgrading the 412 to provide a JAR Ops capability. The very popular new 429 twin has 600 hours of flight test logged and is slated to go into production by the year-end. Production capacity issues and the popularity of some models has forced Bell to axe four models from its lines. The 206, 210, 427 and 427 will be phased out of production by 2010.  Mike Blake, VP of customer solutions, said the Jetranger was dropped largely because the company didn’t need two entry-level helicopters and the L4 would fill the gaps. Frank Robinson’s hotly anticipated turbine-powered R66 and other competitors have slashed 206 series sales for years and it is time to trim the market losers. But with more than 6,000 Jetrangers flying, and supplied by a company known for excellent support, we will see this airframe soldier on for many more years. Progress on the Bell/Agusta BA609 twin certification is now slated for 2010-2012. Sales evaporated due to program delays; however, 20 sales in the last year show customers have renewed their faith. Bell nullified rumours of high direct operating costs on the tiltrotor, specifying a DOC of “only” $1,500 hourly. It is anticipated that the initial 80 depositors will have a purchase price in the $16-20 million range.

Agusta declared sales of half a billion dollars at HAI including:14 of the new A119 Ke models, 30 A109 Grands, 18 AW139s and 14 A109 Powers. Agusta has delivered 110 of the AW139s 300 orders and is now giving birth to these birds at its Philadelphia plant.

Meanwhile, AgustaWestland announced BERP IV blades for AW101 variants that can be retrofitted to existing machines such as Canada’s SAR birds (Cormorants). These vibration-reducing airfoils are aeroelastically designed to reduce vibration and increase cruising speed by 10 knots and lift by 1,430 pounds. During testing, the AW101 was able to achieve 198 knots at 13,000 feet and was flown at an AUW of 36,300 pounds.

Robinson Helicopters continues to lead the world piston market with 823 sales in 2007. The sale of 644 R44s sets a world record for one type of helicopter in a given year. Test flying continues on the soon-to-be-offered R66 turbine which is to be powered by the new Rolls-Royce RR300 with its centrifugal compressor, and customers are lining up in droves. Frank Robinson sees the aging B206 fleet and Bell’s cessation of 206B production as a major market for the R66. He feels the biggest issue in the helicopter industry is the shrinking number of places we are allowed to land and the need for more rooftop pads.

Many manufacturers would like a piece of Robinson’s market share and the French Cabri with its fenestron-shrouded antitorque system is the newest combatant. The sleek and sexy Lycoming O-360 piston-powered pretender to the R 22 has several refinements that could make it attractive in the marketplace. Although performance of the machines is similar, the Cabri carries 45 gallons of go-juice and boasts a range of 460 nm. This more modern airframe is carbon-epoxy and the fuel system and seats meet the latest crashworthy standards. The helicopter was created by Bruno Guimbal, an ex-Eurocopter design engineer who apparently had support from the world’s largest turbine helicopter producer. The current appreciation of the Euro compared to the U.S. dollar has the Cabri priced more than $100,000 above the little Robby.

Rolls-Royce has continued to refine the 30,000 model 250 engines in the field to improve efficiency and reliability, and the fleet has now amassed 190 million flight hours. To meet demand for its 23 turbine versions of the new RR300 and 250 series,  a new plant is under construction in Indianapolis.

Turbomeca observed that 1,400 new helicopters were produced worldwide in 2007, doubling output since 1995, and claimed its engines powered 46 per cent of the global market. Retiring company CEO Emeric d’Arcimoles mentioned that 700 engines have been produced in Canada with a 30-per cent increase in plant area planned to handle the worldwide support tooling for Turbomeca products. The engine manufacturer announced a $5-million plant expansion in Montreal doubling space to 100,000 square feet.
Pratt & Whitney Canada’s growth surge of 300 per cent in five years is attributed to having the right products for new aircraft entries, says VP John Saabas. The latest revelation was coupled with the unveiling of the Eurocopter EC175 which will be powered by a FADEC version of the PT 6 variant. The -67E produces a thermal rating of 1,775 shp. A new Customer First Centre program provides 24/7 staffing to further improve the return-to-service process that was already well served by a network of 30 company-owned centres around the globe.

Standard Aero announced a repair procedure for RR 250 engine fuel nozzles and a modification for the air/oil separator gears which meets CEB 72-3271. These initiatives will greatly reduce previous costs to operators on these issues. The Winnipeg-based company also landed large contracts with Air Methods and Turbomeca Asia Pacific for engine support and repairs.

Dart Helicopter Services president Jeff Shapiro continues to vastly expand the company’s offerings with more than 1,500 products in its catalogue. Sales increased 300 per cent in 2007. An example of a Dart offering is the new AS 350 air conditioner which is less than half the weight of the original Eurocopter offering.

Heliproducts of Pitt Meadows, B.C. launched an online store (www.heliproducts.com) with components, engines, helicopters and many maintenance tools available.
Expect greater latitude and capabilities this fall in WAAS-supported GPS approaches with new ICAO initiatives supported by Eurocopter EC155 flight tests. The Dauphin made 9-degree steep glideslope instrument descents to support the new 6-degree limit, and precision results were equivalent to Category I ILS approaches. The U.S. recently approved GPS WAAS approach criteria, resulting in a surge in applications for approaches.

Competition in Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) resulted in the introduction of a few $15,000 models from manufacturers including Max Viz. These inexpensive infrared sensors turn night into day and even help to see obstacles in adverse weather.

Although there are many programs in place to reduce accidents, there was only a slight decrease to 78 crashes in 2007 from 80 in 2006 in the U.S. Unfortunately, fatalities were up from 10 to 21. The HAI Safety Town Hall meeting generated interesting comments from operators who would like to see recording equipment installed that would show any pilot exceedances of engine and airframe parameters. They were quick to point out that their concern was safety – not policing their pilots. One Alaskan pilot talked about the threat from wind generators; while flying in poor weather he almost crashed into a wind generator pylon that loomed out of the murk. Quick evasive action allowed him to miss the heavy-duty tower only to be swatted at by a whirling blade that filled his windscreen. He felt they should be better marked on maps. In the future he might want to consider sitting out poor weather conditions!


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