Tag Archives: #helicopters

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Airbus expands made in India program with Helicopter deal

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Airbus has expanding its “Made in India” program with a deal with Tata Group that will see Airbus Helicopters assembled on a new Final Assembly Line (FAL) in India.

The program is part of India’s plan to be self-reliant .

This will be the first time a private sector company has set up a helicopter manufacturing facility in the country and will be used for the Airbus H125 Helicopter for clients in India as well as being exported to the wider region.

The H125 is the worlds best selling single-engine helicopter and is well suited to mountainous regions being the only helicopter to have landed on Everest.

N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons, said, “The Tata Group is delighted to set up India’s first helicopter assembly facility in the private sector. This facility will have the final assembly line in partnership with Airbus for the world’s bestselling Airbus H125 single engine helicopter for the Indian as well as export markets.”

The final assembly line is expected to take around two years to set up with the first “Made in India” H125’s to be delivered in 2026.

“Helicopters are crucial for nation building. A ‘Made-in-India’ civil helicopter will not only be a symbol of the confident New India but will also unlock the true potential of the helicopter market in the country,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO. “This helicopter final assembly line, which we will build together with our trusted partner Tata, is a reaffirmation of Airbus’ commitment to developing the full spectrum of the aerospace ecosystem in India.

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Leonardo: AW09 global market success extends to Europe with preliminary sales contracts for ten units by Léman Aviation

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  • The helicopter service provider based in France and Switzerland joins the programme as established European distributors of Leonardo helicopters are in discussion to include the AW09.  
  • The total number of Preliminary Sales Contracts signed in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe would reach 80 units by year-end.     

The number of global partners for the AW09 next-generation single-engine helicopter in the world market grows further with the announcement at European Rotors (Madrid, 28-30 November) of the addition of Léman Aviation, who has signed Preliminary Sales Contracts for ten units. 

Léman Aviation offers tailored solutions for customers looking for personal and professional management of their private helicopter needs: sales and acquisitions, co-ownership program, helicopter operations and charter management, maintenance, and training. Headquartered in Switzerland and France with a strong presence in Monaco and the French Riviera, Léman Aviation delivers world-class helicopter services at the industry’s highest standards.

Léman Aviation joins the consensus around the AW09 programme and market potential as established European distributors of Leonardo helicopters are discussing extending their collaboration and distributorship mandates to include the AW09 in the continent. With this latest achievement, the AW09 world market success extends to Europe following announcements of partnerships and distribution agreements already made in North and Latin America, Africa and Asia in 2023, some leading to end-user orders. The total number of Preliminary Sales Contracts would reach 80 units globally by year-end.  

“The AW09 continues to generate a very positive response from all geographies worldwide as the programme development progresses,” said Gian Piero Cutillo, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters. “Rotorcraft companies highly welcome the AW09 for its outstanding characteristics and multirole capabilities that represent a significant evolution compared to existing products in this category. The additional preliminary sales contracts signed now in Europe provide clear evidence of it.” 

“We are thrilled to partner with Leonardo on the AW09 programme. This milestone allows Leman Aviation to strengthen its helicopter service portfolio ranging from charter flights, fractional ownership and asset management to aircraft transactions,” said Vincent Pollet and Nicolas Miras, co-founders of Leman Aviation. “The launch of the AW09 programme in France comes with tremendous interest from the market, and we look forward to addressing it with this state-of-the-art single-engine helicopter.” 

The AW09 perfectly complements Leonardo’s product range in the Long Light Single-segment, introducing an all-new design aircraft to sustain long-term competitive positioning in this weight category. A full-scale mock-up of the final configuration is on display at the Leonardo booth at European Rotors, attracting lots of interest within the rotorcraft community thanks to its distinguished features in cabin space and ergonomics, external footprint, and latest-generation avionics and technology.

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MD Helicopters Booked Record Orders in 2023

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The OEM is focusing on product support and gradually ramping up production

MD Helicopters booked orders for 25 helicopters last year, its highest annual order intake since 2008, it announced today. The orders were almost evenly split between military and civil models.

In addition to an order for 12 helicopters from the Nigerian federal government, recent commercial transactions involved MD530Fs designated for multi-use missions. These civil variants included VIP aircraft for Clemens Aviation and utility aircraft for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and WCF Aerospace on behalf of Skydance Helicopters, a company that specializes in power line services.

“This achievement is a testament to our dedicated team and the trust our customers have in us,” said Jason Lindauer, MD v-p of sales and marketing. “We have an aggressive campaign underway to meet face-to-face with our customers, suppliers, and prospects to gather firsthand feedback and to continue to strengthen relationships.”

MD has instituted a variety of process improvements over the last year, according to the company. They include improving customer support, increasing investment in direct communications with customers, enhancing manufacturing efficiencies, ensuring in-stock spares availability, and maintaining healthy supplier relationships.

MD emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2022 and appointed a new board of directors, CEO, and senior executives with the stated intention of rebuilding product support and gradually ramping up helicopter production.

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HAI Celebrates 75th Anniversary

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The helicopter trade association was established in 1948

Today, Helicopter Association International (HAI) celebrates 75 years of advocacy in the vertical flight sector. HAI was founded on Dec. 13, 1948, in Burbank, California, by a group of 16 individuals originally known as the Helicopter Council. Since then, the organization has grown to include thousands of members from at least 65 countries, including pilots, technicians, manufacturers, and suppliers. 

“Seventy-five years ago, a small group of visionaries had the foresight to establish an organization that would become the beacon for the vertical aviation industry,” said HAI president and CEO James Viola. “Today, HAI stands as a testament to their vision and the collective efforts of our members, volunteers, and staff. We are thrilled to celebrate this momentous occasion, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to promote vertical aviation worldwide.”

HAI remains committed to promoting safety and community in the vertical flight sector, which in recent years has evolved to include new types of rotorcraft, including electric and autonomous vehicles, in addition to traditional helicopters. The changing landscape of the industry has prompted HAI to consider rebranding with a more inclusive title—one that may or may not retain the word “helicopter.” Announcing the move at the 2023 Heli-Expo convention, Viola pledged the rebranding will “look to the future while honoring the past.”

“HAI remains committed to the industry while embracing the expansion and development of new aircraft, infrastructure, and uses for vertical flight,” Viola said. “Our core mission is and will remain: to support our members and promote vertical aviation’s critical role in creating safe, prosperous, and connected communities around the world.”

HAI will hold its next Heli-Expo event in February 2024 in Anaheim, California.

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Leonardo, Pratt & Whitney Canada use SAF on AW139

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Leonardo and Pratt & Whitney Canada today announced the successful completion of the first flight for a AW139 intermediate twin helicopter, powered by PT6C-67C engines, using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Accomplished at Leonardo’s facility in Cascina Costa di Samarate (Italy) on 21 November, the 75-minute flight and ground tests evaluated engine performance with multiple power variation and other systems. The test showed an outstanding response to the new fuel with no significant differences compared to the use of Jet A1 fuel. This goal marks a historic first for both Leonardo’s helicopters and the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engine family. Earlier this year in-service AW139 helicopters carried out flights with SAF, blended with traditional jet fuel under the current certification standards, in Japan, Malaysia, and most recently UAE. All main civil-certified types within the Leonardo’s helicopter product range are certified for operations using SAF with a blended ratio of up to 50%.

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European Rotors Opening Next Week in Madrid

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Rotorcraft show is the largest such event in Europe.

Europe’s largest rotorcraft show—European Rotors, co-organized by the European Helicopter Association (EHA) and Helicopter Association International (HAI)—begins Monday at the IFEMA Madrid Fair Centre in Spain. The exhibit hall, with more than two dozen helicopters, opens on Tuesday and will feature rotorcraft manufacturers, suppliers, and operators.

Attendees are invited to view presentations that will include hoist and sling load demonstrations, Spanish Day, helicopter emergency medical services, Parapublic Day, and global humanitarian aid projects. The Spanish Day event will be hosted by Spanish helicopter association ATAIRE and will focus on public-service programs such as firefighting and EMS.

“Rotors are the sounds of service,” said EHA chairman and technical director Christian Müller. “Citizens…know assistance is at hand when they hear the sounds of helicopters approaching. Due to the unique capabilities of our aircraft, the vast majority of helicopter flights perform missions that support humanity. These aircraft might be conducting search-and-rescue, fighting fires, supporting electrical grids, or performing airborne law enforcement support, and we are excited to feature this versatility at our show.”

HAI president and CEO James Viola added, “Igor Sikorsky, who developed the modern helicopter, famously stated, ‘If you are in trouble anywhere in the world, an airplane can fly over and drop flowers, but a helicopter can land and save your life.’ Our world would look vastly different today if helicopters were not here to serve.”

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Broken Supply Chain Hobbles Offshore S-92 Operators

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Aircraft’s dispatch reliability plummets as safety concerns rise

Supply-chain woes continue to adversely impact offshore helicopter operators, according to a notice recently issued by the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers’ (IOGP) aviation subcommittee (ASC). In a recent IOGP ASC safety notice to members, the organization branded the situation as “serious and deteriorating,” saying it presented “significant safety and operational risks.”

While the problems were particularly acute with regard to the Sikorsky S-92, with 86 percent of its fleet flying offshore energy, the ASC said the situation pervaded the entire industry. But the S-92, with its unique capacity to carry 19 passengers and service deepwater clients, drew the majority of the ASC’s attention based on operator surveys.

Data from the three largest civil S-92 operators—Bristow, CHC, and PHI, which together account for 61 percent of the fleet—revealed that 20 aircraft (13 percent of the fleet) are AOG while waiting for replacement main gearboxes. Three other operators reported another 11 S-92s are also AOG.

The overall AOG number is likely to double by the end of 2024 given Sikorsky’s low aircraft production rates—it delivered four S-92s in 2022. One operator reported that S-92 AOG days at the parts level increased from 214 in 2022 to 3,009 year-to-date.

Overall fleet dispatch reliability now hovers at 80 percent, as opposed to the industry average of 96 percent. The situation has triggered a variety of adverse maintenance practices, according to the ASC, including parts cannibalization, up by 50 percent to 106 percent, with more than 50 parts being taken from an aircraft entering maintenance “not uncommon.”

Maintenance extension requests to the OEM have increased by an average of 850 percent year-to-date. The time to complete a 1,500-hour inspection has increased by 75 percent (to 75 days), requiring 25 percent more manpower, and triggered a 57 percent increase in overtime.

The ASC concluded that the climate created the “potential and conditions for a serious safety event that is clearly growing unless action is taken.” Operators are forced into contracts that apply “punitive financial penalties for not meeting aircraft availability targets.”

According to the ASC, such provisions “will not improve availability, but will worsen the operators’ position further and potentially add further stress and risk to their maintenance departments.” It predicted that S-92 parts availability “has the potential to deteriorate further in the coming 12 months, leading to further reductions in aircraft availability.”

IOGP reiterated operator “resilience strategies” suggested earlier in the year, including raising stakeholder awareness and transparency, temporary sharing of contracted aircraft assets, and not punitively adding to operational risks via contract penalty clauses.

The ASC concluded that “effective local action and engagement between individual clients and contracted operators is essential if the safety risks are to be mitigated and our normal very high levels of safety performance maintained.”

Sikorsky president Paul Lemmo said the OEM was working diligently to resolve supply chain issues, significantly increasing main gearbox production and assisting its own suppliers with resolving bottlenecks. He partially attributed the issue to a post-Covid surge in S-92 flying hours, which increased by a fifth.

In a statement provided to AIN, Lemmo said the company is taking various actions to address the “unprecedented” S-92 spares situation, in part driven by a “22 percent increase in S-92 aircraft flight hours over the last three years. This increased utilization has added to the fleet operating hours but also created more pressure on parts required.”

“Sikorsky experts have provided S-92 suppliers technical and operational support so they can accelerate delivery of parts,” he added. The company “has been assisting S-92 suppliers throughout all tiers of the supply chain to source specialty metals, components, and other raw material.”

Lemmo said these efforts were beginning to produce results, noting that “we have increased main gearbox output by 40 percent in 2023 compared to 2022. We have delivered 31 year-to-date and project providing 40 in 2023 versus 28 delivered in 2022.” He said Sikorsky “will continue these efforts for as long as it takes to accelerate delivery of the parts our customers need.”

His comments built on remarks made by Sikorsky executives speaking at Heli-Expo earlier this year. Leon Silva, Sikorsky’s executive v-p of global, commercial, and military systems, admitted that ongoing supply chain problems had dragged down S-92 fleet utilization rates and dispatch reliability percentages “into the high eighties.”

He said the company “continues to work diligently on the supply chain” and had established what amounts to an emergency center at Sikorsky’s Trumbull, Connecticut facility to work with suppliers to resolve issues.

Aside from ongoing supply chain woes, Sikorsky’s commitment to the civil market remains suspect after the company was acquired by defense contractor Lockheed Martin in 2015. It has discontinued production of the S-76 rather than manufacture it with a federally-mandated crash-resistant fuel system.

Earlier this year, Sikorsky announced it was shelving the S-92B program and moving the anticipated certification date of its A+ upgrade for the helicopter into 2025, some three years later than originally planned. As a result, deliveries of A+ kits ordered today will not happen until 2026.

Several helicopters in the installed fleet of more than 300 S-92s have nearly reached their 30,000-hour life limit, but Sikorsky has no plans to extend it. Though the company continues to accept orders for the $40 million S-92, it cannot deliver one for at least two to three years, it said.

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Airbus unveils PioneerLab twin-engine flying laboratory

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Airbus Helicopters has unveiled its latest technology demonstrator, designed to test technologies that reduce emissions, increase autonomy and integrate bio-based materials.

The PioneerLab is a twin-engine demonstrator, based on the popular H145 platform. It follows on the heels of the single-engine demonstrator aircraft FlightLab (based on an H130, and designed to test technology “bricks” that could be incorporated into the company’s existing fleet) and DisruptiveLab (a clean-sheet design created to test new architectures and concepts).

“With PioneerLab, we continue our ambitious strategy to test and mature new technologies on board our helicopter demonstrators,” said Tomasz Krysinski, head of research and innovation programs at Airbus Helicopters. “PioneerLab, which is based in Germany at our Donauwörth site, will be our platform to test technologies specifically dedicated to twin-engine helicopters.”

Through the use of a hybrid electric propulsion system and aerodynamic improvements, PioneerLab aims to achieve a 30 percent reduction in fuel compared to a conventional H145.

Airbus Helicopters will also flight-test structural components made from bio-based and recycled materials, with the aim of reducing the environmental footprint across the aircraft lifecycle. The company intends to produce the parts using processes that reduce material and energy consumption and improve recyclability.

The company said further research activities will include the integration of the latest digital technologies into the aircraft’s flight control system and associated sensors, which will provide increased autonomy and safety during critical flight phases such as takeoff and landing.

PioneerLab was unveiled during the German National Aviation Conference in Hamburg, Germany, and is partially co-funded by the BMWK, the Federal German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Actions through its national research program LuFo.

Airbus Helicopters said it has already begun the flight test campaign with PioneerLab at its German headquarters in Donauwörth, with a rotor strike alerting system being the first techno-brick tested on board the demonstrator. The next phase will be to test an automated take-off and landing system, the company said.

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OEMs, Experts Exude Market Caution

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Manufacturers and leading rotorcraft valuation analysts expect the markets for both new and used civil helicopters to remain tight in 2023, squeezed by a triumvirate of pressures including inventory, inflation, and supply chain constraints.

While the civil market has mostly returned to pre-covid normal in terms of overall new helicopter sales and/or flight hours, price increases have placed increasing pressure on the already constrained preowned market. Meaningful forecasting in this environment, clouded by continuing economic uncertainty, is difficult, so much so that, for the first time in memory, Honeywell will not issue its turbine helicopter sales forecast at this year’s Helicopter Association International (HAI) Heli-Expo.

“[The helicopter market is] actually kind of a muddy picture,” said Jason Zilberbrand, president of aircraft valuation and consultancy Vref. “You know, it’s really difficult I think for people to figure out what’s going on, what they should do.” 

Jason Kmiecik, president of HelValues, concurs. “It is very difficult for anybody to say how 2023 is going to pan out,” he noted.

For the OEMs already reporting 2022 civil sales results, the trend appears to indicate more of the same, with perhaps small increases in production, but nowhere near enough to take pressure off the used market.  For 2022, Airbus Helicopters said it maintained its 52 percent share of the civil and para-public helicopter market in 2022 with 374 orders and 344 deliveries. Customer fleet hours, meanwhile, returned to pre-pandemic 2019 levels. Demand for the company’s turbine singles and light twins again led the way, collectively accounting for 342 orders, while demand for Airbus’s super-medium and intermediate helicopters, the H175 and H160, remained weak, drawing orders for just eight and 12 examples, respectively. 

“Our orders came from 203 customers in 48 countries, underlining the importance of our global network, as well as showing that in uncertain times, the role of helicopters is more essential than ever,” said Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even. “[2022] was a year in which Airbus Helicopters solidified its recovery, in a context of instability with the war in Ukraine and a fragile supply chain.”

Bell Textron’s civil deliveries surged, but largely on the popularity of the high-production, low-margin Bell 505 light single. Overall, for both military and civil sales, Bell’s revenues dropped 4.9 percent from its performance in 2021, to $3.1 billion, while the segment reported a profit of $282 million. Bell said it expects modest growth in 2023 revenues—to about $3.3 billion—with comparable profitability. Bell finished 2022 with a backlog of $4.8 billion and delivered 176 civil helicopters, up from 156 in 2021. The totals included 83 Model 505s and 49 Model 407 singles, as well as 32 light-twin 429s. Deliveries of 505s posted the largest gain, increasing from 63 in 2021. For the period, deliveries of Bell 412s more than doubled, from seven to 15.

Both Airbus and Bell deliveries benefitted from the strength in the singles market, where “government agencies and municipalities are buying this stuff like Tic Tacs,” said Zilberbrand. Demand for both new and used single-engine turbine helicopters remains strong and supply is tight, according to market consultancy Aero Asset. It reported that the preowned singles market remained tight for most of 2022 worldwide, with some signs of loosening in North America during most of the year and in Europe during the fourth quarter. Sales for those models fell 12 percent in 2022 compared with 2021, according to Aero Asset. For the year, 212 units sold for a collective $387 million—down 15 percent by value from 2021.

VIP singles accounted for 60 percent of all transactions in 2022 while the supply of helicopters configured for emergency medical services remains at an all-time low. The number of utility helicopters for sale dropped 30 percent year-over-year. The supply of popular models remains tight, with just five months’ supply of the Airbus AS350B3/H125, Bell 407/GX/P/I, and Airbus EC130B4/H130 remaining at 2022 trade levels. Leonardo’s AW119, while ranked last, still showed a strong absorption rate of 10 months. 

“North American buyers accounted for nearly 60 percent of all single-engine transactions in 2022 while retail transactions in Europe fell 40 percent year-over-year,” said Aero Asset v-p of market research Valerie Pereira. “Inventory for sale plummeted 40 percent year-over-year, but rose in the fourth quarter and actually tripled in North America between the second and last quarters of 2022.”

But that inventory doesn’t stay on the market long, said HeliValues’ Kmiecik. More than 90 percent of the adjustments made in HeliValues’ Official Helicopter Blue Book from the Q4 2022 pricing review have recently increased. “The supply of in-demand aircraft will continue to diminish,” he said. “Some of what’s remaining on the market are aircraft that buyers have picked through and have passed on already. We’re starting to see a lot of emails from brokers looking for off-market aircraft because there’s more demand than supply on certain models.”

On the singles side, Kmiecik sees hot demand for Airbus AStars, Bell 407s and 206L-3s and L-4s, and newer MD 500 series aircraft while owners increasingly part out older aircraft. The light twin market is also very active for almost everything from the Airbus EC135 and EC145 models.  For medium twins, low-time Sikorsky S-76C+ and C++ models are finding homes in the VIP market; however, from a broader perspective, demand for S-76 models has diminished as they leave the offshore energy sector.

In the intermediate twin space, although the price of used Leonardo AW139s has dropped slightly in the last six months, the demand for leasing has increased. “Lease rates are going up faster than the [sales] values are dropping,” said Kmiecik. “The 139 is still one of the most also popular aircraft because it has proven itself to be a very reliable aircraft. Everybody loves it, they love flying in it, they love flying it, they love working on it.”

Leasing activity also is increasing on the heavy Airbus EC225LP and the Sikorsky S-92A, driving down supply and stimulating an eventual price increase, according to Kmiecik. “We are finally starting to see prices rise for the first time in years for the heavy class of helicopters,” he said, adding that recent transactions in the third and fourth quarters of 2022 drove up valuations on both the EC225LP and S-92A. EC225LP sales involved the utility or search and rescue sector, and S-92A sales remained in the offshore energy transport sector. Offshore’s increasing sole reliance on the S-92A as its main heavy twin-engine helicopter could pave the way for the Bell 525 as a second-source aircraft, particularly in the North Sea, depending on its eventual sales price and timing of its final certification, he said.

The likelihood that OEMs will significantly boost production to alleviate scarcity across all categories remains low, according to the experts. “I think they’re [the OEMs] strapped for resources,” said Zilberbrand, who doesn’t see supply and prices getting back to normal until 2024 at the earliest. “I think a lot of folks just didn’t come back after Covid and it’s going to reduce capacity. They can’t get stuff up fast enough and the stuff that they’re getting out is having more issues post-delivery.”

Kmiecik thinks OEMs will remain cautious about raising production in the face of economic uncertainty. “Given that behavior, odds are the used market will remain tight for newer and current production models,” he explained.

Longer-term, Zilberbrand thinks the market for turbine singles will likely erode in the face of eVTOLs. “While currently used turbine singles are worth their weight in gold from an operational standpoint, they’re getting really expensive to fix,” he noted. “We’re going to get to this point where [eVTOLs] are going to be forced on us. Insurance premiums are not getting any cheaper and a lot of stuff’s getting past the [maintenance] point of no return.”