Rotor & Wing International

Rotorcraft Report

Probe's Focus on Gearbox Saps
Super Puma Market Appeal

Accident investigators assessment of gearbox damage in an EC225 that crashed two months ago in Norway is contributing to a pullback from the Super Puma family by helicopter operators around the world.

A June 1 report by Norway’s Accident Investigation Board that a second-stage planet gear in the CHC Helikopter aircraft’s main gearbox epicyclic module showed indications of fatigue failure shocked the industry.

The indications were similar to ones seen in the U.K. Air Accident Investigation Branch’s probe of a 2009 Bond Offshore AS332L2 crash that killed 16; its main gearbox disintegrated in flight. The April 29 CHC crash killed 13.

The Norwegian board’s report promoted the European Aviation Safety Agency, the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority and the U.S. FAA to ground all Airbus Helicopters H225 flights, including search-and-rescue ones that had been permitted under earlier action that followed the April crash.

Photo courtesy of the Norway Accident Investigation Board

CHC, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. after the crash, on June 8 said it will no longer fly Super Pumas from its North Sea support base in Aberdeen, Scotland, unless customers specifically request that aircraft.

The operator said its decision on the H225s (Airbus’ new brand for Super Pumas) was “commercially driven.”

The Super Puma has been the focus of union, political and public criticism in the North Sea operating area since at least 2009. On April 1 that year, according to the U.K. Air Accident Investigations Branch, the main gearbox on a Bond Offshore AS332L2 disintegrated in flight. That led to the helicopter’s crash off Peterhead, Scotland, which killed two pilots and 14 passengers.

CHC said it remains “committed to having a resilient, mixed fleet that provides the right aircraft at the right time to meet our customers’ helicopter service requirements.” It added, “In the future, when the H225 fleet returns to service and customers wish to fly the aircraft, we will appropriately adjust the mix of aircraft in our fleet.”

At press time, the Reuters news agency reported that Singapore is holding off on a decision to acquire new Super Pumas to replace its existing military fleet of those aircraft. R&WI

FAA: Small UAS Rules Take Effect in August

Final rules for commercial use of small drones in the U.S. will take effect next month and will continue some current limits on their use.

The FAA revealed details June 21 of the long-awaited Federal Aviation Regulation Part 107 for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which it said will take effect in August.

With the new FAR part, the FAA is “taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. He said the FAA is “already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations” for drones that weigh fewer than 55 lb.

As is the case now, such commercial UAS under the final rules generally cannot be flown higher than 400 ft agl or beyond their operator’s line of sight. They can only be flown legally during daylight or twilight with anti-collision lights. The final rules do not permit such drones to be flown over “unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation.”

The operator of a commercial drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with a certificate.

To obtain such a certificate, an individual will have to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center or have an existing nonstudent Part 61 pilot certificate, the agency said. For a Part 61 certificate holder to obtain a remote pilot certificate with small UAS rating, that individual will have to have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and must take an FAA-provided UAS online training course.

Applicants for this certificate will have to undergo a background check by the Transportation Security Admin.

The new rules do not require a small commercial drone to meet airworthiness certification requirements. But they make clear that the operator of such a drone is “responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying” by performing a preflight visual and operational check of the aircraft “to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning property,” the FAA said. That “includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.” R&WI

Industry Fears IBF Limit

U.S. makers of inlet barrier filters (IBF) fear the FAA is on the brink of imposing new test requirements on to address a safety problem they say does not exist.

The FAA is collecting comments on a draft policy calling for specialized flight tests of IBF installations and development of new charts of their effect on helicopter performance. The FAA said the common practice of periodic power-assurance checks of the filters’ effect on engine performance “is not an acceptable means of compliance.”

The FAA plans an industry meeting July 7 (the deadline for comments) in Fort Worth, Texas.

Together, Aerometals and Donaldson Aerospace (the two U.S. manufacturers) “have accumulated 20 million flight hours on IBFs and 7,000 helicopter owners have bought and installed filters, with zero accidents,” said Rex Kamphefner. “Where, I ask you, is the safety problem?”

Donaldson concurs, saying the FAA “seems to be acting without listening to owners and operators of helicopters flying critical missions in austere environments.” R&WI

The S-92 performs in various configurations, including search and rescue.Photo courtesy of Sikorsky

S-92 Marks Million-Hour Milestone

The global fleet of Sikorsky S-92s in May surpassed one million flight hours, within 12 years in service. The S-92 was the first aircraft certified to FAA/EASA Part 29 requirements, as revised through Amendment 47. The aircraft this year was honored with the American Helicopter Society International’s Harry T. Jensen Award for its safety record. R&WI

AMGH Buys H130s for India Air Ambulance

Air Medical Group Holdings is acquiring three Airbus Helicopters H130s for a new air ambulance it is setting up with a partner in India.

The Dallas-headquartered helicopter emergency medical service operator, which has been pursuing the India market for more than two years, is partnered with Aviators Air Rescue. Their target for starting that service has slipped at least twice. They now aim to launch it late this year. Their efforts were aided by the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s recent release of regulatory guidelines for air ambulance operations.

AMGH and Aviators Air Rescue are not alone. India’s Global Vectra Helicorp Ltd. in March signed an agreement with Era Group to jointly develop an air ambulance service for the India market. R&WI

Bell Demos 412EPI in Vietnam, Nepal

Bell Helicopter's 412EPI began a five-month tour in the Asia-Pacific region.Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter

Bell Helicopter last month concluded demonstrations of its 412EPI to defense, coast guard and public safety officials in Vietnam, then moved on to Nepal to highlight the twin-engine aircraft’s high-altitude performance. In Nepal, the 412EPI performed takeoffs and landings at 15,200 ft and hovered in ground effect at nearly 18,000 ft density altitude, according to the manufacturer. The twin then flew to 20,000 ft pressure altitude near Mount Everest. The Vietnam and Nepal stops are part of Bell’s five-month tour of the 412EPI across the Asia Pacific region. R&WI

Airbus Finalizes Deal
To Build H135s in China

A Chinese consortium has ordered 100 Airbus Helicopters H135s, following the signing of a letter of intent in October last year. The deal will launch a H135 final assembly line in the country.

The group, which is made up of China Aviation Supplies Holding Co., Qingdao United General Aviation Industrial Development Co. and CITIC Offshore Helicopter Co., is China’s first industrial partnership to launch a H135 assembly line. The line will be located in the country’s Qingdao, Shandong province. Operations are expected to begin in 2018 and continue for the next 10 years.

Although China’s civil helicopter fleet growth has slowed due to factors including the economy and the oil and gas industry downturn, its numbers are still rising.

According to a report from Asian Sky Group, more than 22% of the fleet in Greater China comes from Airbus. The H135 has been configured in the region for various parapublic missions, tourism and charter flights.

Airbus said China’s development in the offshore wind industry has opened a new market for helicopter operations. The manufacturer expects a demand of 600 light twin-engine helicopters in China within the next 20 years. R&WI

US Defense Bill Calls for Study
Of Military Rotorcraft Pilot Health

The U.S. defense secretary would be required to brief members of Congress early next June on the Pentagon’s progress in studying adverse health effects of rotorcraft operation on pilots, according to pending military funding legislation.

The House of Representatives Fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4909) includes Section 744, which directs the defense secretary to “carry out a long-term study of career helicopter and tiltrotor pilots to assess potential links” between the operation of helicopters and tiltrotors “and acute and chronic medical conditions experienced by such pilots.”

The House passed the overall bill May 18 and sent it to the Senate for consideration the following week. The House bill cited Defense Dept. estimates that treatment of acute and chronic injuries among helicopters cost the government more than $250 million a year.

The Senate on June 14 passed its own version of the 2017 defense authorization bill. That bill does not include a call for a vertical-lift health study.

The congressional houses will have to resolve differences between their versions of the authorization legislation before it can be sent on to President Obama for his signature and enactment into law. R&WI

Crash Sustains Pressure for Fuel System Rules

Fiery crashes in which helicopter occupants survive but die of burn injuries are sustaining public and political pressure on the FAA to review certification rules.

Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee are focusing on the aviation agency’s responses to longstanding recommendations to adopt more stringent certification standards for crash-resistant fuel systems.

One is Rep. Jimmy Duncan, a Republican who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a major congressional panel that oversees the FAA. Others expressing concern on the matter include Republican representatives Chuck Fleischmann and Phil Roe.

Their concerns follow autopsy findings that four of five people killed in the April 4 crash of a sightseeing Bell Helicopter 206L near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, died of burn injuries; the fifth died of blunt trauma injuries.

The FAA has convened an industry working group to perform a cost-benefit analysis of requiring crash-resistant fuel systems and other occupant protections on all newly built U.S. certificated helicopters. Current rules only require such systems on helicopters type certificated after October 1994.

Tennessee members of Congress were to meet June 10 with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta for a briefing on that working group’s progress. R&WI

HeliOffshore Launches
Collaborative Safety Software

HeliOffshore selected Jive software to connect helicopter operators, global manufacturers, aviation regulators, academics and other stakeholders in the rotorcraft industry.

The new system, HeliOffshore Space, brings together about 400 industry decision makers from more than 80 member organizations to collaborate on helicopter safety initiatives.

“We have increased the reach and flexibility of that collaboration as people share and update best practices and exchange safety information,” said Francois Lassale, HeliOffshore operations director.

HeliOffshore Space enables collaborative work streams across a growing membership for the benefit of all who travels offshore, the organization said. It connects industry experts to share knowledge and advocate for important safety initiatives, such as health and usage monitoring, effective use of automation, operational performance monitoring and flight path management. R&WI

Pacts' Signings Kick Off
Turkish Helo Program

Turkey’s defense ministry has started the clock on development of more than 100 new utility helicopters over the next decade by signing final agreements with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Sikorsky and three other aerospace contractors in that country.

TAI, the prime contractor on the program, said June 7 that the signings mean the Turkish Utility Helicopter program “has come into effect and the last steps were taken to start the project schedule.” The pacts were signed with the defense ministry’s Undersecretariat for Defence Industries. Turkey has valued the program at $3.5 billion.

The undersecretariat signed a contract with TAI and the subcontractors on Feb. 21, 2014, to procure 109 T70 helicopters based on Sikorsky’s S-70i International Black Hawk for use by Turkey’s Land Forces, Air Forces, Gendarmerie, National Police and Special Forces Command, as well as its Director of General Forestry.

Sikorsky said that, over 30 years, TAI will deliver an equal number of baseline S-70is to it for export. It added that it and TAI are discussing setting up a joint marketing team to support Sikorsky’s S-70i sales to new markets in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

Sikorsky is to serve as the major subcontractor. Other contractors include the Turkish communications and electronics manufacturer Aselsan and Alp Aviation, a Turkish engineering and manufacturing firm started in 1998 as a joint venture of Alpata Group and Sikorsky.

Also on the contract is TUSAS Engine Industries (TEI), a joint venture of TAI, General Electric, the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation and the Turkish Aeronautical Assn.

TAI said it will be responsible for manufacturing, final assembly operations, tests and integrated logistics support of all airframe structures and composite rotor blades. R&WI

Russian Helos to Open S. Korea Service Center

Russian Helicopters and South Korea’s RH Focus Corp. have signed a memorandum of understand to create a service center for Russian’s Kamov and Mil helicopters in South Korea.

South Korea operates a large fleet of Russian-produced helicopters, including multi-purpose Mi-172s and 60 Ka-32s, according to the manufacturer. These helicopters perform a wide range of tasks, such as firefighting, search and rescue, special operations and offshore patrol. Ka-32s are also used as flying cranes for construction and assembly. R&WI

Safran Engines to Power S. Korean Light Helos

Photo courtesy of Safran Helicopter Engines

Safran Helicopter Engines will supply two engine types to South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries, the Defense Acquisition Program Admin. and Hanwha Techwin.

KAI’s light civil helicopter will be powered with Safran’s Arriel 2C2 engine, and the Arriel 2L2 will power the DAPA/KAI/Hanwha light armed helo.

Certified in 2002, the 2L2 is the newest engine in the Arriel family. Safran has signed an agreement with Hanwha for a joint development and manufacturing of it in Changwon, South Korea. R&WI

Erickson Eyes 'Strategic Alternatives' Amid Slump

Erickson Inc. is investigating options for its current operations, organization and financing in the face of a two-year slump in its business.

The Portland, Oregon, provider of aviation services around the world has replaced its CFO with an airline industry veteran “specifically skilled in debt refinancing and restructuring” and turnarounds.

Erickson also has hired an international investment bank, Imperial Capital LLC, that specializes in arranging debt and equity financing for aerospace and defense clients and advising them on mergers, acquisitions and restructuring.

Given its financial performance, Erickson said in announcing the CFO move, President/CEO Jeff Roberts and the board of directors “felt it was an appropriate time to bring in an executive with a specialized skill set focused on the current needs of the business.” David Lancelot was to start as CFO June 13, succeeding Erik Struik, who joined Erickson in September 2013.

Erickson has been increasing its manufacturing and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business, with revenue jumping from about $12.27 million in 2013 to roughly $31.48 million last year. That was helped by Erickson’s assumption of product support responsibilities for Bell Helicopters 214B and 214ST models in 2015.

But manufacturing and MRO makes up about 20% of the company’s business. Its commercial aviation and defense and security activities have slumped as oil and gas support operations around the world declined and the U.S. has scaled back military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Erickson reported profits of $9.87 million in 2013, the year it acquired Air Amazonia in Brazil and Evergreen Helicopters, with U.S. Defense Dept. contracts. It lost $10.23 million in 2014 and $86.63 last year.

The company’s net loss in this year’s first quarter shrunk to $26 million from roughly $75 million in the same period last year. “Revenue for our services continues to be disappointing as we were unable to replace certain defense, and oil and gas contracts we had last year,” Roberts said May 5. (Erickson’s year-over-year revenue for the quarter fell $19.3 million.)

Erickson said Lancelot’s “notable career achievements include raising hundreds of millions of dollars in public equity, financing billions of dollars’ worth of aircraft and successfully executing the turnaround of a low-cost airline.” He has served as CFO of the U.S. carrier Spirit Airlines. R&WI