HELI EXPO 2017
By Frédéric Lert
Copyright : Frédéric Lert
With plans already underway for next year’s event in Las Vegas, Heli-Expo 2017 took place in familiar surroundings in Dallas, Texas, March 7-9. Following the unsuitably stark 2016 venue in Louisville, Kentucky, this year’s event left visitors smiling, despite lukewarm financial results. 2016 was a nightmarish year for the industry, and 2017 was only a slight improvement. There were very few big announcements made in Dallas, but helicopter manufacturers continue to look to the future.
LUCKILY LEASING COMPANIES ARE DOING WELL, WITH MILESTONE AVIATION GROUP (GECAS) ANDWAYPOINT LEASING LEADING THE WAY. THE SEGMENT PUT IN DOZENS OF ORDERS WITH AIRBUS HELICOPTERS AND LEONARDO. MILESTONE SIGNED FOR 26 AIRBUS HELICOPTERS AIRCRAFT: SIX H135S, SEVENTEEN H145S AND THREE H175S. LEONARDO RECEIVED AN ORDER FOR SIX AW139S AND THREE AW169S, TO BE DELIVERED IN 2017 AND 2018. WAYPOINT ALSO SIGNED FOR SIXTEEN H135S AND H145S AS WELL AS SEVERAL H175S—A FIRST FOR THE COMPANY. AIRBUS ALSO RECEIVED AN ORDER FOR THREE H135S EQUIPPED WITH HELIONIX AVIONICS SYSTEMS FOR AMERICAN EMS OPERATOR STAT MEDEVAC.
Ed Waschecka, CEO of Waypoint Leasing, was among the rare optimists at Heli-Expo 2017, citing “signs of demand for heavy-weight craft.” His attitude contrasts starkly with the pessimistic long-term assessment of the civil aviation market issued by Honeywell the day before the trade show. According to the parts manufacturer, the 1,000 operators included in the classic study will need an estimated 3,900 to 4,400 rotorcraft between 2017 and 2022, for an average of 780 to 800 craft a year. Single-engine and lightweight twin-engine craft are expected to account for two thirds of purchases (48% and 18% respectively). Medium twin engine helicopters should make up 33%, with heavier craft amounting to just 1% of sales in terms of volume sold.
Bell took advantage of Heli-Expo 2017 to make its official comeback on the lightweight single-engine market, with the sales launch and first delivery of the new 505 to operator Pylon Aviation, based in Arizona. Nearly 50 years after the Bell 206, which dramatically changed the civil helicopter market, the 505 marks the beginning of a much-needed new chapter for the company. The American-Canadian manufacturer had a difficult year in 2016, with a 35% drop in deliveries: only 114 helicopters were handed over to clients. Bell’s military range accounted for 64% of its revenue last year, revealing a serious imbalance in its business. Bell CEO Mitch Snyder indicated in his press conference that his goal was to restore the balance between military and civil sales. The initial deliveries of the Bell 505 will also allow the company to see how many of the 350 letters of intent will be followed up with firm orders, and how quickly. According to Snyder, interest in the new helicopter is at its height, with enough firm orders to cover several years of production. Things are looking less positive for the 525 Relentless, at the other end of the Bell range. Following the loss of a prototype last July during a high-speed test flight, the remaining prototype has been joined by a new one, and test flights are scheduled to begin again soon. Bell also has some soul-searching to do regarding the replacement for the 412: will the company make over the current craft or launch an entirely new design? Theories and rumors raced through the crowd at the trade show, but nothing definitive has been released.
MD Helicopters (MDHI) unveiled a mock-up of its future MD6XX in an EMS configuration on the first day of Heli-Expo. The helicopter features the nose of the MD600N, combined with a classic four-blade tail rotor, in a turn away from the NOTAR solution. MDHI plans to equip the craft with Genesys avionics systems by Aerosystems and a Rolls Royce M250-C34E2 turbine. According to MDHI CEO Lynn Tilton, the helicopter will feature a maximum take-off weight of 2,500 kilograms and maximum endurance of four flight hours. MDHI is also readying a modernized version of its MD902—rechristened the MD969—which is expected be certified with Genesys avionics systems by this summer. The craft will also be equipped with four-axis autopilot and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206E turbines.
Marenco announced its SKYe SH09 will be operational as of 2019, with at least two launch customers: Air Zermatt and Alpinlift Helikopter followed through on letters of intent, resulting in firm orders for two helicopters. Marenco also claims to have several other launch customers for the three-on craft. The Swiss manufacturer hopes to have the SH09 certified by late 2018, with deliveries beginning the following year. The schedule is quite ambitious given the delays in the craft’s development due to important changes made to dynamic components on the second prototype. The Swiss helicopter is positioned as the direct competitor of the Airbus Helicopters H125, but the Franco-German helicopter maker is hardly resting on its laurels: it remained world leader in the civil market, improving its delivery numbers over the previous year. Airbus Helicopters handed over 418 craft and recorded 388 orders in 2016.
In January Airbus Helicopters began delivering its H125 and H130 lightweight single-engine helicopters with a Garmin G500H avionics system, totally replacing all analog instruments. During Heli-Expo, a Chinese general aviation operator signed a firm order for four H125s equipped with eight options. Five other helicopters were sold to REACH Air Medical Services.
Sikorsky unveiled its S-76D and S-92 (in South Korean Coast Guard livery) in Dallas. The company has sold more than 850 helicopters from the S-76 family and more than 275 S-92s, but did not announce any additional sales during Heli-Expo.
Leonardo, on the other hand, racked up the sales mentioned at the beginning of this article as it continues to modernize and expand its range: the AW119Kx should be certified shortly for operations at 24,000 feet, and the AW169 was granted EASA certification by the FAA in February. The first deliveries of the lightweight twin-engine craft in the Americas are expected this year. Agusta has already received 150 orders for this helicopter and 20 are already in service in different fields (VIP transportation, EMS, offshore transportation, etc.). The idea of rolling out a new production line in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has nonetheless been put on hold until further notice. Leonardo also announced it has delivered more than 30 AW189s and that its 009 model—the PZL Swidnik SW4 with a new engine and avionics system—will be certified this year.
The future is taking shape…
Bell’s FCX concept helicopter was the only new craft on display at the latest edition of Heli-Expo. More than a helicopter, this mock-up is above all an exercise in style, combining all the different technologies Bell intends to develop over the coming years. Say goodbye to flight controls and dashboards, replaced in the FCX by fine-tuned automatic systems and an augmented reality pilot interface. The pilot will simply move his or her hands to work virtual controls. The FCX also does away with the traditional tail rotor, replaced by an electric cross-flow fan. Bell also plans to eliminate vertical and horizontal surfaces at the rear of the aircraft to decrease mass. The helicopter also features morphing rotor blades to optimize performance in different flight regimes. Bell announced it is already fine-tuning some of these technologies at test benches on the ground, such as the anti-torque tail system, which could be used for the first time on a lightweight single-engine helicopter.
Leonardo working hard on a successor for the AW609
During Heli-Expo, Leonardo partially unveiled plans to develop convertibles, including its aim to test a new-generation prototype by around 2023. The plans are ambitious, but in the meantime Leonardo will have to deal with the more immediate question of certification for the AW609. The current calendar plans for certification in 2018 given that work has picked up since the third prototype first took off from the Philadelphia factory on January 30. The AW609’s successor, partially financed by the European Union’s Clean Sky 2 program, will feature distinctive rotor and wing technologies to make the helicopter more aerodynamic in all flight regimes. The tilt rotor engine bay will be replaced with a simpler system in which only the rotors and transmissions will tilt, with the engines remaining fixed at the end of wings. “An AW609 will undoubtedly be used to test components of nascent technology,” explained Leonardo CEo Daniele Romiti at his Heli-Expo press conference.
Heli-Expo 2017 in figures
• 17,788 visitors
• 30,000 square meters of exhibition space
• 731 exhibitors
• 62 helicopters on display
• 1,500 participants in 62 training sessions