HELI-EXPO SEES DULL OUTLOOK
By Karl Schwarz
http://www.flug-revue.rotor.com/FRHeft/FRH0004/FR0004f1.JPG [not image]
When the Heli-Expo opens in Las Vegas every other year, there is always one winner: the HAI (Helicopter Association International). The HAI organises the event and can count on a record number of visitors, just as it happened at the end of January, when 13,750 "registrants" had passed through the gates on the second day, which was over 2,000 more than in Dallas. There were over 440 exhibitors, which must also have been a record.
However, the mood in the gamblers' metropolis remained rather restrained. An HAI poll shows that the economic situation of helicopter operators has improved considerably in 1999 (only eleven instead of 21 percent announced losses), but optimism seems subdued - new problems are appearing on the horizon, which might have a bearing on business.
Much discussed in Las Vegas were the anticipated restrictions on sightseeing flights across national parks such as the Grand Canyon. Environmentalists have a powerful lobby in the USA and even Vice President Al Gore has put his weight behind the cause.
The HAI is aware that the reputation of the helicopter has to be improved. The association wants to invest in PR as much as finances allow it. The aim is to put across the many advantages of the helicopter.
The HAI is fighting on all fronts to maintain public helicopter landing strips. In the last ten years their number has dwindled from 214 to 183. Another point is flexible use of airspace. New FAA directives for IFR use have meant an important success.
Safety must not be compromised by such measures, because a lot remains to be done on this sector. 1998 statistics show an accident rate of 8.93 per 100,000 flight hours. This is somewhat worse than ten years ago (6.61).
The situation has been relaxed considerably in another area, which had been a worry to the HAI for some years. The number of surplus US military helicopters, which were donated to the police or other government operators, has now been reduced from over 350 in 1995 to zero. Rolls-Royce (Allison) points out in its traditional ten year forecast that these models were used to build up new units, where purchasing new helicopters was out of the question.
With all factors, like new models, the currently higher fuel prices, the very active business trip sector or possible cost problems for rescue helicopters are taken into consideration, Rolls-Royce forecasts possible sales of 5,403 civilian helicopters. Additionally there will be 3,633 military craft.
Civilian clients will continue to prefer single engine helicopters, (56 percent), which are followed by light twins (20 percent). Honeywell's forecast, which is based on a poll, shows similar numbers. The engine, avionics and equipment supplier expects 2,300 civilian deliveries between 2000 and 2004 inclusive. These are only 50 more than in the five years from 1995 until 1999. North America will take the most units (55 percent), followed by Europe (29 percent), Latin America (eight percent) and the rest of the world (eight percent).
Bell and Eurocopter will continue to have the biggest slice of the cake. Last year Bell had a few problems. The new 427 received its Canadian certification in mid November, and the important certificate of the American FAA was only officially handed over on 24 January in Las Vegas. A few minutes later a helicopter was handed over to the first customer - almost traditionally Petroleum Helicopters.
It was initially intended to deliver the first new models during the last Heli-Expo in February 1999. It is now essential to deliver the 20 completed 427 quickly. They are still at the Mirabel Factory in Canada. The maximum take off weight is limited for the time being. The envisaged 2,880kg will make an additional load of 1,137kg possible. Orders have been placed for about 85 helicopters.
Another important model was handed over in Las Vegas, the Bell 430. The company HeliFlite Shares, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, intends to build up a Fractional-Ownership-Program with this helicopter. The co-owners can use this aircraft 62 to 500 hours per year depending on their share (1/16 to 1/2).
Common ownership is booming in the business jet sector. However, this arrangement has not yet been fully accepted by helicopter operators, although Eurocopter is planning something along these lines. Apart from this the company is trying to improve its customer service, in order to be top ranking not only in sales, but also in market share and turnover. It is intended to lengthen maintenance intervals and improve the availability of spares, the price of which will remain unchanged this year. American Eurocopter admits that it still has to improve necessities like good manuals in order to satisfy its customers.
The take off weight of the EC 135 has been increased to 2,835kg. This model received its German LBA- Certification for Single-Pilot- IFR- operations in December. The Single-Pilot-IFR-Certification is about to be awarded to the EC 155. The first of this type of helicopter was presented at a Heli-Expo, and Eurocopter was also able to announce the first US customer: Fred Drasner, Co-Chairman at US News & World Report will receive a model at the beginning of 2001.
These new developments mean that the Sikorsky S-76 is longer in the running, although this helicopter remains popular with operators. Copterline in Finland has ordered two S-76+ and is planning to put them into service between Helsinki and Tallin in Estland from this summer. Even if sales were disappointing in 1999, Sikorsky is working to further improve the S-76. The company's most important news was that two customers want to by the large 19-seat S-92. Cougar Helicopters has signed an option for five models and paid a deposit. From April 2002 these helicopters will be used for offshore flights in East Canada. In the West of the country there is a preliminary contract with Helijet Airways, Vancouver. This company intends to use the S-92 for passenger transport.
At the moment this model is still being put through the trail phase. Two prototypes have already been airborne for about 120 hours in West Palm Beach. Furthermore there is one static test airframe which has already successfully completed a long-term trial lasting 200 hours. This year two further S-92 will be ready to fly, No.4 is intended to correspond with the series production model. Initially it was planned to use Honeywell avionics, however a system by Rockwell Collins is being offered now.
Just like Sikorsky, Augusta only took one helicopter, the A 109 Power, to Las Vegas. The results for this company are pleasing. In 1999 64 models were sold, 45 for the civilian market. Orders valued over $2.5bn have been placed. Part of this was achieved by the sale of the A109 to the South African Forces.
There was also good news for the A119 Koala. In December the simple version of the A109 with one engine received its Italian certification after endless delays. Now deliveries can be made to customers in Venezuela and Australia. As for the AB139, which was developed in conjunction with Bell, a new order has been placed by the Australian Helitech. The maiden flight is planned for the end of the year. By then the tilt-rotor Bell/Augusta BA 609 should be flying as well.
Compared with large manufacturers, who also do significant business with the military, MD Helicopters looks rather unassuming. Since Boeing took over the MD-500/600-product line and the Explorer, which was exactly one year ago, the company has done well.
In 1999, capacity bottle-necks kept delivery numbers low, but Company Boss Henk Schaeken is confident that for 2000, 64 models will be completed. In order to achieve this it is planned to use another Boeing hangar in Mesa, Arizona. Also, the distribution of secondary contracts is being re-organised, which will help to lower costs considerably.
The Explorer is currently very much in demand. It is said to be far more reliable than the EC 135. Even the Baden-Wьrttemberg Police has made a decision in its favour and ordered three models. Aero Lloyd in Hangelar will use an Explorer for VIP flights during Expo 2000 in Hanover. Currently work on the certification of the Explorer with more powerful Pratt & Whitney-Canada-PW207E-Engines is underway.
Schweizer also promises more power for its new model 333, a derivation of the 3330SP. The payload will be increased by one third by optimising the rotor blades and supplying the craft with an improved dynamic system. This will no doubt make this helicopter, which has up to now not been very successful, more attractive. The first customer will be the San Antonio Police Department.
Engstrom is also working on improvements to its model 480, which is like the Schweizer 333 powered by an Allison-250-C20W-Turbine. An improved transmission will allow more power from the down-rated engine, which will in turn increase the take off weight by 68kg to 1,360kg. Testing of the 480B started in January and is to be completed by the middle of the year.
In Las Vegas another modification of a small single engine helicopter was introduced: Robinson now offers its R44 with hydraulic steering only. This alteration had been available as option from September. The response was overwhelming. After 134 of these helicopters were delivered in 1999, orders for a further 119 have been place with Robinson for 2000. For this reason the factory at Torrance Airport (Los Angeles) is to be extended, and new employees will be hired. The production rate will rise to five R44 per week plus three R22.
Only in their wildest dreams can other manufacturers hope for these numbers. Unfortunately Kaman did not find a single client for its special cargo helicopter K-MAX. Brantly also tried in vain to find a market slot for its small twin seat B2B. However, both companies will not give up and place their hopes, like those of the rest of the industry, in the new year.
From page 48 of FLUG REVUE 4/2000