introducing the future of rotorcraft

May 27, 2019

Good news for the rotorcraft industry – Heli-Expo continues to grow. For evidence, look no further than the fact that this year’s edition covered over a million square of the Georgia World Congress Center, one of the largest facilities ever booked for the show. Alan Norris reports from Atlanta

Amongst the many exhibitors on the show floor, some of the biggest crowds were drawn in by Bell and its impressive full-scale composite mockup of the Nexus eVTOL/air-taxi concept. Visitors could even take the Nexus for a spin via an innovative virtual reality experience. The concept features a central wing, ‘V’ tail with a horizontal stabilizer and six tilting ducted fans, each powered by separate electric motors. Power will be supplied by the Safran Hybrid-Electric Propulsion System.

“Data from organizations like NASA, Uber and Goldman Sachs all predict the global ride share market will grow to $285 billion by 2030,” says Scott Drennan, Bell VP of Innovation. “With data also showing that urban aerial passenger numbers could reach 750 million during the same timeframe, Bell sees urban mobile development as a positive part of our business plan.”

Bell also signed a number of purchase agreements for helicopters of a more conventional design, including a Bell 412EPI to Japan’s Nagano Prefecture Fire Department, a Bell 505 and one Bell 407GXi to National Airways Corporation for operations in South Africa. Africair also ordered a Bell 505, which will be the first aircraft of its type to be delivered to Ethiopia. The Polish Police signed on for three Bell 407GXi’s and will be the first of the type to be operated by a European law enforcement agency.

TRU Simulation & Training, a training provider and simulator manufacturer owned by Textron Inc., is offering its customers mission-related training that it says cannot be found elsewhere. The company developed a full-flight, Level D Bell 429 simulator for its own training center in Valencia, Spain. The simulator impresses not only by offering a high-fidelity visual system, with the industry’s largest standard visual field of view, but also by offering a level of simulation that can only be called an immersive experience. The simulator replicates all necessary dynamics of a helicopter’s flight and features two separate motion systems. According to David Smith, vice president and general manager of TRU’s Business Aviation unit, the software allows for a highly realistic training of missions like long line flights. Future training scenarios could include wind farm support, power line inspection and maintenance, and even rescue missions from burning ships.

The Bell 429 simulator is EASA certified. Because it is an all-electric simulator with no hydraulics, the operation and maintenance costs are low. “We’re very excited about this platform, but we’re ready to push it to the next level,” says Smith.

Airbus Helicopters closed the show with 43 orders from worldwide customers across the whole Airbus civil product range. Almost half were from longstanding customer Air Medical Group Holdings, who signed a contract for a mix of 21 single-engine H125s and twin-engine H135s.

“At the close of 2018, we had 413 gross orders with 153 customers in 47 countries and delivered 356 aircraft valued at $6734 million, which represents 54% of the global market share,” says Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “We also reported a 72% share of the North American market, predominantly in the para-public sector.”

The main focus at the Airbus stand was the launch of a five bladed version of the H145, designated H145D3, which brings an increase in the useful load of 150kg (330lbs). A new bearing-less lightweight, foldable main rotor design will also ease maintenance operations. Additionally, a reduced rotor diameter, from 11m (36 ft.) to 10.7m (35.4 ft.), will allow the aircraft to operate in more confined areas. The new model will come with the addition of the wireless Airborne Communication System (wACS), which will allow for the secure transmission of real-time in-flight data. The Ukrainian Ministry of Interior will be the launch customer, deciding to change eight of its ten H145s on order to the five-bladed model.

Certification is expected from EASA in the first quarter of 2020.

Current operators will be able to retrofit a factory-supplied upgrade kit that will take approximately 200+ man-hours to fit, but the retrofit is not available for the EC145 C1 or C2 variants. The launch customer for the retrofit will be REGA, the Swiss Air Rescue operator, who will upgrade its entire fleet of seven H145s.

MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton explained that it has taken a long time to make the company great again, acknowledging that the military business has put them back on the map by enabling new investment in research and development. The company has now moved and integrated all their tooling from Turkey back into Mesa. “Building in house means we can respond very quickly to our customer base in everything we do,” says Tilton.

Tilton also announced the development of a high-speed, 200 knot demonstrator called the Swift, which will have a new NOTAR system and fan design. It will have longer and wider main blades and will be fitted with thrusters that enable a cruise of 160 knots and maximum speed of 180 knots.

On display were two of its most iconic helicopter models, the MD 530F operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority for powerline work, and a combat configured MD 969, an upgraded variant of the MD 902 Explorer series highlighting the future capabilities of the light twin-engine airframe. Both aircraft featured the Genesys Aerosystems’ all-glass Integrated Display Units.

Following the formation in July 2018 of a fully-owned US subsidiary, Kopter North America LLC, Andreas Löwenstein, CEO of the Swiss-based Kopter Group, announced that they will now establish a new production facility for its SH09 helicopter at Lafayette Airport, Louisiana. The 7869 sq. meter (84,700 sq. feet) facility was originally to be the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X production base, but it was later decided to build the model at its Mirabel facility in Canada.

According to Löwenstein, Kopter chose the Lafayette site for several reasons. “Louisiana is a rapidly growing and attractive region, already hosting several key helicopter operators, and offers easy access to a qualified workforce and a high-quality educational environment,” he says. “Furthermore, the facility itself meets the highest standards and allows almost instant operations, and its location on the airport provides an ideal production environment with quick and easy logistics and commercial access.”

The company will begin hiring personnel later this year and prepare operations by mid-2020, with the intention of creating at least 120 new jobs by 2025. Final assembly and customization of the SH09 will ramp up to an anticipated volume of around 100 per year.

The design of Pre-Series 4 (PS4) is being finalized, which, thanks to a new fuel tank system design, will now have an enlarged cabin allowing up to eight passengers, in addition to the pilot. The maximum take-off weight has also been increased to 2850kg (6238lbs.) and 3000kg (6614lbs.) for external loads. Once completed, PS4 will join the flight test activities of P3, currently in Sicily, to achieve the goal of type certification.

Leonardo Helicopters Managing Director Gian Piero Cutillo said that in 2018 the company was the top helicopter manufacturer in terms of value, achieving a 40% market share in the worldwide civil market – a 7% increase compared to the previous year. Total aircraft delivered to customers worldwide in all mission sectors was 177 in 2018, significantly higher than the 149 units delivered in 2017. The company now have 450 aircraft operating in the VIP multi-engine sector in North America, representing a 40% market share. As such, Leonardo sees the US as a core ‘home market’ that has generated more revenue from civil helicopter deliveries over the last two years. Their production facility in Philadelphia is now supporting a fleet of over 1000 units with services supplied from North to Latin America.

Just after Heli Expo closed, Leonardo released its official 2018 financial results, which showed a 9.4% return on sales from $7050M in new orders and a backlog of $13.8M.

The company also announced a substantial reinforcement of its helicopter training capabilities in the US with the establishment of a $65M multiyear investment in the establishment of a new 5575 sq. meter (60,000 sq. feet) training academy within its Philadelphia facility. It is expected to be completed in 2020 and will provide training services for pilots, cabin crew and maintenance technicians in North and Latin America.

The AW609 tiltrotor expects to achieve FAA certification in 2019, with the first delivery following in 2020. “We have made a lot of progress and we now see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Cutillo. “We are getting interest from not only civil, but also the parapublic sector and the military.”

Nakanihon Air Service, one of the largest fixed and rotary wing operators in Japan, and Leonardo signed a memorandum of understanding with the aim of establishing a joint working group to study requirements for introducing the AW609 into commercial service in the EMS role, disaster response and SAR operations in Japan. But the $20 to $30M price per unit may still be a sticking point
for some future operations.

Sikorsky announced new plans for its S-92 helicopter line that will re-designate fielded helicopters as the S-92A+ after modification, and newly produced aircraft as the S-92B. The two variants will share a nearly identical configuration, with S-92Bs also featuring enlarged cabin windows and plans for a common cabin door suitable for offshore and SAR configurations. The fleet update will also include the introduction of the MATRIX technology, which will bring advanced computing ability to the aircraft and enable the adoption of autonomous landing technology such as Rig Approach 2.0. Both configurations will also include the Phase IV main gearbox, which has demonstrated to the FAA operation in a run-dry state for the equivalent of over 500 nm at 80 knots with no anomalies during the post-test examination.

The General Electric CT7-8A6 engine will also be available as an option for both the S-92A+ and S-92B products.

Everett Aviation signed a lease agreement for an S-92A from Lobo Leasing that will support oil and gas plus utility operations in East Africa. It is equipped with a versatile utility interior, which can seat up to 19 passengers in standard configuration or mix passengers with stretchers or cargo in a combined configuration. Everett is the region’s largest helicopter service provider and the new aircraft will initially be based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The Rotorcraft Outlook

Despite respondents to Honeywell’s 21st annual “Turbine-Powered Civil Helicopter Purchase Outlook” having a slightly less positive view of the global economic outlook than in 2018, new aircraft will still support an expected 3 to 4% annual growth rate in overall deliveries. The forecast says that 4,000 new civilian helicopters will be delivered between 2019 and 2023, marginally down by 200 on the forecast last year, but still on an upward trend.

From a regional prospective, Latin America is expected to take the largest hit with only a 9% growth. In comparison, North America is forecasted to grow by the largest rate of 18% for fleet replacement and expansion. Purchase plans in Brazil decreased to only 5%, reflecting higher political tensions and lower expectations for long-term economic growth. Over 65% of North American purchases were identified as light single-engine models, while 22% were for intermediate and medium-twins.

The Middle East and Africa had the second highest new purchase rate globally, with 15% of respondents’ fleets expected to get a new replacement or additional aircraft. Purchase plans were 5% higher compared to 2018. Almost 70% of planned new helicopter purchases in this region were medium twin-engine models.

For Asia Pacific, overall buying plans were down 5% over 2018. Close to 13% of respondents said they would either replace or expand their fleet with a new helicopter over the next five years. Light single-engine and medium twin-engine helicopters were the most popular classes at 30% for new buys.

In terms of Europe, the overview indicated that purchase plans were lower in this year’s survey. Nearly 15% of respondents said they would either replace or expand their fleet with a new helicopter over the next five years, compared to 22% a year ago. It also shows that new helicopter purchases would be at 30% in the intermediate and medium twin-engine classes. Meanwhile, 25% of respondents indicated plans to purchase light single-engine helicopters, down 12% from last year.

The data comes from a survey of more than 1,000 chief pilots and flight department managers of companies operating 3,334 turbine and 321 piston helicopters worldwide, and overall the predicted increase in deliveries signals a healthy helicopter market poised for moderate growth.

Heli Expo will be heading back to Anaheim, California, with a very early date of 27-30th January 2020.