On The Fly

On the fly

Downward spiral?

For the international helicopter community, the new year gets under way with the Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo convention and exhibition – which opens this week at Florida’s Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. FlyCorporate’s Rod Simpson reports.

The annual Heli-Expo show is always a great opportunity to test the temperature of the helicopter industry. However, with world economies still suffering from the 2008 financial crisis and with helicopters so heavily engaged in international oil industry support, manufacturers arrive in Orlando facing a period of uncertainty – a fact reflected in the volume of helicopter deliveries last year.  

Helicopter leaders are also very concerned about other matters, including safety and accident rates, noise management and the recruitment of new pilots into the industry. Needless to say, these issues will be the focus of many of the seminars and panel discussions that are part of the convention.

While 2014 saw a small increase in fixed wing business aircraft, as recorded in the annual GAMA statistics for 2014, the rotary wing industry fared less well with an overall fall of 26% in deliveries of civil helicopters during the year. It should be noted that the total of 971 units does not include the final three months of AgustaWestland sales, but this makes little difference to the overall conclusion that all manufacturers ended up handing over fewer aircraft than in 2013.

OEM overview

On the brighter side, most OEMs managed to maintain their dollar sales totals. The only exception was Robinson Helicopters, which saw a significant softening in demand for their range of light piston and turbine (R66) helicopters. They handed over 329 units in the year, down from 523 the year before, and sales of the new R66 nearly halved to 101. 

While corporate sales are important to the industry, the major helicopter activity is in the law enforcement and emergency medical (EMS) sectors and, notably, the international oil and gas business – which suffered considerable market turbulence during the year. The same helicopter models are also marketed to military and governmental users, but despite reduced defense spending, the manufacturers did manage to maintain consistent deliveries in this sector.

Among the turbine helicopter manufacturers, Airbus Helicopters remains the industry leader with 364 units delivered in 2014, together with 76 military deliveries of commercial models. The EC135 and EC145 are consistently popular with public sector users and first deliveries of the new EC175 took place during the year. Despite its well-publicised technical problems, the EC225 and military EC725 left the Marseilles factory in substantial numbers, with 43 being handed over – up from 30 the year before.

AgustaWestland, which is reporting results for the first time, is a strong contender in the mid-size market with 66 AW139s, eight AW169s and five AW189s delivered in the first nine months of the year. Bell Helicopter moved 53 Model 429s out to customers, although fewer Model 407s were delivered than in 2013.

Sikorsky, which had a full year of S-76D deliveries following the first unit to Bristow Helicopters in December, 2014, also celebrated the tenth anniversary of the S-92. Forty-two S-92s were delivered in 2014, and more than 200 are now in service, primarily in the oil and gas and SAR (Search and Rescue) markets, with over 750,000 flight hours racked up to date. Finally, Enstrom Helicopter had a successful year with 24 of its light turbine Model 480B going to civil users, including the first Garmin G1000H equipped Model 480B-G, and to military customers such as Japan and Thailand who find it valuable in its training role.

A positive spin in Orlando

So what will we be looking out for at Heli-Expo?

Bell Helicopter will be reporting on progress with certification of the new 505 Jet Ranger X model which recently made its first flight, and their work on development of the 525 Relentless, which will bring a new dimension to the offshore and mid-size utility market. Airbus Helicopters will be coming forward with its new generation X4 medium twin helicopter, which is set to replace the AS365 Dauphin and will be powered by a pair of uprated Turboméca Arrano engines.

Then, there are the smaller manufacturers, notably the Swiss company Marenco Swisshelicopter, which flew its prototype SKYe SH09 mid-light helicopter last October. Also exhibiting will be Enstrom Helicopters, who flew the prototype of its new TH180 trainer on February 2. French company Guimbal, which recently gained FAA certification for its popular two-seat Cabri training and personal helicopter, will also be present.

Also read: Revitalizing business aviation through innovation.

As always, Heli-Expo will be a vibrant affair, and attendees will be hoping for signs that the delivery dip in 2014 will be redressed during the course of the year.              

Be sure to stay tuned to FlyCorporate.com as we will be reporting all the news coming from Heli-Expo throughout the course of the week.

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