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Rotorcraft Report

Helicopter news and analysis

Safety Summit Highlights Challenge of Gains Amid Business Crisis

The helicopter industry faces challenges beyond the economic ones created by oil’s slump and its effect on commercial sales and operations. The industry must find ways to further advance safety while addressing that business crisis.

That was the message orof CHC Group CEO Karl Fessenden in opening that company’s 12th annual Safety and Quality Summit last month. Nearly 600 representatives of operators, manufacturers, regulators, insurers and vendors from more than two dozen countries attended the three-day event that started April 4 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“As business operators, partners, suppliers and regulators, we are in the midst of budget exercises, capital expenditure reviews, and cost-benefit analyses,” Fessenden told those attendees. “And those of us who are part of the oil and gas supply chain will surely have to reimagine ourselves in the months ahead. But as aviation service providers, we are focused on safety above all else.”

Yet another indication of what Fessenden called “the worst economic environment in our industry in 30 years” came April 15, when CHC Group and its CHC Helicopter S.A. subsidiary failed to make a scheduled interest payment of roughly $46 million on about $1 billion in loans that mature in October 2020. The failure “constitutes a default under certain other agreements of CHC and its subsidiaries, which could result in a cross-default under other agreements that could be material,” the company said.

CHC added that it has a 30-day grace period in which to make the required payment. It is “working with its advisors to review all strategic alternatives for restructuring the company’s debt and improve CHC’s long-term capital structure,” the company said.

Earlier last month at the Vancouver summit, Fessenden acknowledged that “some may see a tension in justifying” investments in safety efforts “at a time when elsewhere in our businesses some very tough decisions are being made.” He noted that in mid-2015, when organizers set the theme of this year’s event as “Back to Basics,” the industry was adjusting to benchmark Brent crude oil’s per-barrel prices that had dropped from highs in the $120s to $60. That price has been below $40 for much of this year.

“We, as leaders in our respective industries, need to overcome that tension,” he said. “The issue is not whether to retreat from our goal of constant safety improvement. The issue is how we and the industry continue to elevate safety.” R&WI

Randy Jones Departs, Hands Reins to Tish Drake

Longtime Rotor & Wing International Publisher Randy Jones is leaving the magazine after 27 years in which he built it into the world’s leading rotorcraft trade publication.

Tish Drake

Upon his departure last month, R&WI parent Access Intelligence, LLC named Vice President and Aerospace Group Publisher Tish Drake as acting publisher of this magazine.

“Through his dedication, expertise and many personal relationships, Randy forged Rotor & Wing International into a publication that is respected and beloved throughout the international rotorcraft industry,” said Access Intelligence President & CEO Don Pazour. “With Tish’s proven track record, she will build on that reputation to expand the essential business information that we provide to the rotorcraft industry through events, digital content and print products.”

In announcing the move to colleagues and friends throughout the industry, Jones said, “After a more than a quarter of a century affiliation with Rotor & Wing International, I have decided it is time to do something new.”

He added: “This publication has the good fortune to be a part of the family at Access Intelligence — one of the most forward-thinking business-to-business publishing companies with some of the most talented new-media minds on the planet. That will allow Tish and the rest of the R&WI team to remain on the cutting-edge of business aviation media.”

“I’m thrilled by the opportunity to work with our readers and advertisers to develop new offerings and refine existing ones to meet their business needs,” said Drake. “Together with Editor-in-Chief Jim McKenna and Assistant Managing Editor Amy Kluber, we will draw on the successes of our other events and publications to build Rotor & Wing International’s standing as the business resource for rotorcraft management.” R&WI

Congress Debates Reauthorization of FAA

Leaders in the U.S. Congress are debating how to proceed with legislation authorizing the FAA to keep on operating after July 17.

The U.S. Senate on April 19 passed a bill authorizing the FAA to continue operating through September 2017 for two yr following a temporary extension of those powers to July. Senators must now work with their counterparts in the House of Representatives to sort out differences between their bill and the one from the lower chamber.

The aviation agency is operating under a short-term extension of its authority to spend federal dollars and collect taxes that was passed by the Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by President Obama March 31.

That was the latest of many short-term extensions in recent years that have hobbled the FAA’s operations, planning and budgeting. Most federal agencies are subject to regular reviews by Congress of their operations — a process called reauthorization.

A variety of policy disputes have stalled efforts to enact a “normal” three-yr reauthorization of the FAA. The latest is a bid by U.S. airlines to enact legislation that would pull the U.S. air traffic organization from the FAA and turn it into a privatized outfit run largely by the airlines and funded through user fees. Groups representing operators of smaller aircraft oppose that move.

Privatization was a central element of FAA reauthorization passed by the House.

Senators began work in April based on that House, with which they had major differences. In addition to calling for privatization of air traffic control, the House bill would impose user fees on many nonairline operations.

The Senate bill, which passed April 19 by a 95-3 vote, would authorize the FAA to spend $3.3 billion this fiscal year and $3.7 billion in fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1, 2016. It does not discuss ATC privatization or include user fees.

“We applaud this bipartisan step toward implementing a smart, targeted approach to funding the FAA’s efforts to modernize what is already the world’s safest ATC system, without going down the dangerous path of turning our ATC system over to a private board,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. R&WI

AHS Forum to Explore Transformative Tech

Efforts to develop technologies capable of transforming vertical flight will be a focus of discussions at AHS International’s 72nd Annual Forum and Technology Display later this month in Florida.

The three-day event is to conclude on the afternoon of May 19 with a special session entitled “Transformative Vertical Flight.” The forum opens on May 17 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The special session is to include discussions of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Vertical Takeoff and Landing X-plane program, electric and hybrid rotorcraft propulsion, civil regulation of advanced vertical-lift aircraft and other research initiatives. Those initiatives include NASA’s On-Demand Mobility initiative to support development of efficient, accessible and safe small aircraft.

The special session is to be moderated by Ashish Bagai, a program manager at DARPA working on the VTOL X-plane, and Mike Duffy of Boeing, chair of AHS’s Transformative Vertical Flight Initiative.

To formally open the forum on May 17, AHS has invited U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, III to discuss “The Promise and Progress of Future Vertical Lift.” Clardy is the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s deputy director for Force Management, Application and Support.

In addition to its useful assortment of technical sessions, the forum is to include updates from rotorcraft program officials for the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps. R&WI

Rotorcraft Aid Quake Relief in Japan, Ecuador

Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps

The U.S. Marine Corps is providing assistance to Japan after two earthquakes struck the country’s island of Kyushu within two days. A 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck April 14, resulting in nine deaths and widespread damage. The other struck April 16 with a magnitude of 7.3 and caused at least 40 additional deaths and more damage. MV-22B Ospreys with U.S. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced) arrived to provide operational airlift support for the Japanese government’s relief efforts. Across the Pacific, on April 16, a 7.8-magnitude quake struck northern Ecuador killing hundreds. A number of military and civil helicopters supported rescue and relief operations there, including ones provided by Airbus Helicopters under a pact with the Red Cross. R&WI

Wysong Enterprises VP Heads West

Rodney Wysong, the son of Wysong Enterprises, Inc. founder Steve Wysong, died April 17 at 35 years old after a three-year battle with brain cancer. As VP, Rodney helped build the maintenance, repair and overhaul shop from just a small avionics outfit that worked on electronic newsgathering helicopters.

Rodney Wysong, shown with his father, Steve, died after a three-year battle with brain cancer.

Many in the business recall watching him grow into the executive he became. “It was really cool to watch this little kid from Tennessee grow into a man that was comfortable in any business environment,” said Larry Krieg, southeast sales manager for airborne products at FLIR.

“Rodney was an amazing young man that had a ceaseless passion for his family and his business,” said Dallas Avionics VP of Sales Scott Davis, who was the son of the late Dallas Avionics founder Johnny Davis. Aviation Specialties Unlimited owners Mike and Chris Atwood said Rodney was “a hard-working, energetic, likable young man.”

In 2012, Rodney won the “40 Under 40 Award” in the Tri-Cities region of Tennessee and Virginia from The Business Journal for his leadership in the industry.

In his free time, he enjoyed hiking, rock climbing, snowboarding, golf and snorkeling in the Caribbean. A viewing was held on April 22 at the Grace Fellowship Church in Johnson City, Tennessee. To make a donation in honor of Rodney to the Doe River Gorge Ministries, go to R&WI

US Army, NATO Plan Arizona, European Tests Of Degraded Visual Environment Solutions

The U.S. Army and NATO are planning tests this coming fall and winter of systems to counter threats to rotorcraft from degraded visual environments (DVE), R&WI has learned.

Allied nation researchers are scheduled to test four DVE solutions in flight starting in October, when the systems are to be taken to Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, according to a senior Army official. The systems would then be flown in Germany and in Switzerland.

Back in October 2015, we reported that the U.S. Army is pursuing systems that not only allow helicopter aircrews to take off and land safely in blowing dust, sand, snow, fog and other obscuration but “to exploit dwelling in those conditions indefinitely” to gain “a tactical advantage over an adversary,” That news came in comments by David Cripps at R&WI’s Rotorcraft Certification Summit Oct. 27, 2015 in Irving, Texas. Cripps is deputy director of the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Aviation Engineering Directorate, which is supporting a DVE technical demonstration by the Aviation Development Directorate.

Much attention is focused on brownout as a DVE threat. But other U.S. Army officials said that the greater threat is posed by moisture in the air.

Yuma Proving Ground has a brownout test facility with obstacles and the capability to generate heavy dust conditions by plowing up 18 in of ground throughout the test area before flights.

The flight tests in Germany will focus on how the systems will perform in flight in rain and fog, while tests of the systems in Switzerland will assess the performance of those systems in snow conditions. R&WI

Small Drones May Soon Fly Over People in US

The FAA-appointed Micro Unmanned Aircraft System Aviation Rulemaking Committee submitted recommendations for permitting operations of drones weighing less than 4.4 lb (2 kg) in the U.S. national airspace system on April 1.

The committee had been asked to propose performance-based standards for those smaller drones, which the FAA previously designated as “micro UAS,” along with ways for their manufacturers to show compliance and specific rules under which their operators would fly them.

The recommendations suggested designating four micro-UAS categories based on weight and potential risk to persons directly under their flight paths. Category 1 would include drones weighing 0.55 lb or less that “pose a level of risk that is so low that they are relatively safe to operate over people without being subjected to regulation beyond proposed Part 107,” according to the committee’s report. Categories 2 to 4 would cover larger drones that are increasingly likely to cause “serious” injuries to bystanders.

The recommendations will inform the FAA when it creates a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and drafts eventual federal aviation regulations.

On April 4, China-based DJI, French-based Parrot and California-based GoPro and 3DR announced their formation of the Drone Manufacturers Alliance.

The new group aims to “serve as the voice for drone manufacturers and our customers across civilian, governmental, recreational, commercial, nonprofit and public safety applications.”

The four companies previously had been members of the Small UAV Coalition.

The coalition, like its predecessor, aims to lobby for pro-drone regulations in the U.S., but its members specialize in consumer markets like aerial photography. In comparison, the Small UAV Coalition now more directly represents the interests of larger corporations, including Amazon and Google, whose goals include using drones for larger-scale purposes, such as commercial package delivery. R&WI

Bond, Bristow Awarded North Sea Offshore Contracts

Bond Offshore Helicopters and Bristow Helicopters Ltd. will both be providing North Sea flights under new contracts.

Bond was awarded a three-year contract by Premier Oil for offshore crew transport. The contract, announced in March, calls for Bond to operate out of its Aberdeen, Scotland, facility and serve areas including Premier’s new Solan field located northwest of the Orkney Islands.

The U.K.-based subsidiary of Babcock International currently operates offshore oil and gas helicopters from five specialist terminals, two of which are located at Aberdeen International Airport. Bond uses a mixed fleet of medium twins, including the Airbus Helicopters H225, AS365N3 and AS332 L2, Finmeccanica AW139 and Sikorsky S-92. By press time, the company had not revealed which of these helicopter types, or how many of them, would serve the Premier Oil contract.

Bristow already has commenced flights for offshore service provider Petrofac. The contract, which began in March, is scheduled to run for three years, with two additional one-year options. The agreement also sees Bristow flying Petrofac passengers to the area for the first time.

Bristow said it would begin with direct flights on Sikorsky S-92s and Airbus Helicopters H225s to a single offshore platform and will add other locations in the Central North Sea later in the contract. R&WI

Nevada Trains With California Firefighters

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army National Guard

The California Army National Guard and California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) participated in Wild Land Firefighting Training April 15 to 17 at Sutter Creek, California. Trainees from the Nevada Army National Guard learned how CAL FIRE and the California Guard incorporate UH-72A Lakotas into firefighting operations with an eye toward using them in Nevada’s future battles against wildfires. R&WI

Modular SeaPlanner System To be Deployed on UK Offshore Wind Farms

Renewable energy consultant SeaRoc Group will provide its modular SeaPlanner system to DONG Energy’s Marine Helicopter Coordination Center (MHCC), the centralized hub for its U.K. offshore wind farm construction and a number of regional Operations MHCCs.

SeaPlanner is a customizable, web-based marine management system and monitoring tool built in modules that can be used standalone or together — each providing capabilities such as weather monitoring, vehicular and personnel tracking, and geographical information systems. The central MHCC will use SeaPlanner’s personnel management, vessel and helicopter tracking and the communication dispatcher and site-wide communications capabilities.

SeaPlanner will deploy several unmanned communications containers that house the required equipment to carry out communications on far offshore wind farms. The containers include self-contained safety systems such as fire suppression, gas detection and climate control, all of which can be monitored from the SeaPlanner software.

The containers will be suitable for applications on guard vessels and offshore platforms. R&WI

US Safety Team Targets 20% Cut In Civil Fatal Accident Rate

The U.S. Helicopter Safety Team will focus in the next four yr on reducing fatal U.S. civil helicopter accidents by 20% from a 2009 baseline, the group said April 5.

The industry-government partnership is aiming to reduce the fatal accident rate to 0.61 per 100,000 flight hr, it said, adding that the 2009 baseline is 0.76. It explained that the baseline represents the average fatal accident rate for the preceding five yr that have final and reliable data derived from the FAA General Aviation Survey. Those years are 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The team said it plans to measure changes in the fatal accident rate through 2019 and focus on actions that will help keep the rate in a consistent downward trend. It added that it has set annual targets to guide its work, from a 0.73 fatal accident rate for this year to 0.69 in 2017, 0.65 in 2018 and the end goal of 0.61 in 2019.

In the last 15 yr, the team said, the civil fatal accident rate has been below 0.61 only twice. It spiked in 2008 and 2013, the team noted.

As part of its ongoing effort to support a reduction in fatal accidents, the U.S. team will focus on several actions. These include completing a thorough analysis of fatal accidents from 2009 to 2013 for the development of specific intervention recommendations and enhancing its outreach to all helicopter industry areas.

The team also plans to place special emphasis in its outreach efforts on personal/private flying, aerial agricultural application and emergency medical services.

In addition, the team said it would concentrate on the safety areas of personal protection, aircraft equipage, pilot judgment, pilot decision-making and fostering a just culture.

Since 2013, the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (which is a regional member of the International Helicopter Safety Team) has focused on the U.S. civil helicopter community and fatal accidents. Last year, it said, total accidents decreased for the second yr in a row.

More information about the U.S. and international team, their reports, safety tools and Reel Safety audio-visual presentations can be obtained at and on the IHST Facebook page. R&WI

UK Flight School Adds Cabri G2 to Fleet

The flight school Helicopter Services in April became the 11th training outfit in the U.K. to offer students instruction in the Guimbal Cabri G2 after aircraft serial number 1140 arrived at Wycombe Air Park west of London. The two-seat light helicopter with a three-bladed fully articulated main rotor and a Fenestron tail rotor made a two-day delivery flight from the Guimbal factory at Aix-en-Provence Airport in southern France. (It has a composite-construction fuselage and is powered by a 180-hp Lycoming O-360 piston engine derated to 145 hp.) The school is run by Leon Smith (shown at the right here with Guimbal founder Bruno Guimbal), has been in business for more than 20 yr and provides training for private and commercial pilot licenses and flight instructor and instrument ratings. Its fleet includes an AgustaWestland A109C, three Airbus Helicopters AS355s, one Robinson Helicopter R66, three R44s and five R22s. Smith acquired the Cabri from Guimbal’s U.K. distributor, Cotswold Helicopter Centre. R&WI

Photo courtesy of Cotswold Helicopter Centre