Rotor & Wing International

Rotorcraft Report

Rotorcraft Report is a roundup of helicopter news with a focus on analysis.

Court Clears CHC to End 38 Helo Leases

A U.S. bankruptcy court in May approved CHC’s request to reject leases on 16 Airbus Helicopters, 12 Leonardo-Finmeccanica and 10 Sikorsky aircraft as part the company’s planned reorganization under Chapter 11 protection from creditors, according to the company.

CHC said the court in Dallas approved “first day” motions filed May 5 with its petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of U.S. bankruptcy laws that included the lease-rejection request. Other such motions cleared by the court allow CHC to keep its bank accounts; provide employee salaries, healthcare coverage and other benefits; and to continue making cash transfers among the company and its subsidiaries.

The company said it “expects to maintain sufficient liquidity throughout the restructuring process” to keep day-to-day operations running “without interruption.”

CHC President and CEO Karl Fessenden said the court’s approval of the first-day motions “should provide our customers, suppliers and employees with confidence in CHC’s ability to continue normal business operations worldwide throughout this court-supervised reorganization process.”

He added, “Our objective is to establish a competitive capital and operating structure, enabling CHC to remain a world-class helicopter service provider … that continues to set the standard for safety, customer service and value.”

CHC’s reorganization petition covers it and 42 subsidiaries and affiliates around the world, including operations in the U.S., Canada, the Cayman Islands, Barbados, the Netherlands, Norway and the U.K.; maintenance unit Heli-One’s operations in the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, Norway and the U.K.; and various Lloyd Helicopters operations.

The company proposes to dispose of 90 of the 230 helicopters in its fleet by about July 4 and to reduce its total fleet to 75 aircraft by 2017. CHC’s court filings said it owns 67 of its 230 aircraft.

Under that part of its plan, CHC said, the court approved the immediate rejection of leases on 13 Airbus AS332L2s, six EC225s, one AS332L and one EC155B1. It said the court also cleared it to end leases on 12 Leonardo-Finmeccanica AW139s and eight Sikorsky S-76C++ and two S-76C+ aircraft. (Leonardo is the new corporate name of AgustaWestland parent Finmeccanica.)

CHC plans to return to lessors four more AS332s, 14 more EC225s (or H225s), seven more AW139s and seven more S-76s. It also plans to reject leases on 16 S-92s.

Lessors impacted by the court’s order, according to CHC’s filings, are Element Capital, GE Capital, Leonardo-Finmeccanica, Lobo Leasing, Lombard North Central, Macquarie Rotorcraft, Milestone, Parilease SAS, Sandycove Aviation and SpareBank 1. R&WI

Crash Probe Focuses on Main Rotor Assembly

Norwegian and international investigators are scouring waters northwest of Bergen and have recovered wreckage for clues to why a CHC Helikopter Service EC225 lost its main rotor and crashed April 29, killing all 13 people on board.

The Accident Investigation Board Norway retrieved data from the combined FDR and CRV.Photo courtesy of AIBN

“A significant sea and land search is ongoing” to retrieve “several key components” that are missing from the Airbus Helicopters aircraft’s recovered wreckage, investigators for Norway’s Accident Investigation Board said May 13.

The investigators said they are focusing on examining the main rotor suspension bar assembly, main rotor gearbox and main rotor head.

The crash, which killed two pilots and 11 passengers, triggered the grounding of Airbus H225s and emergency directives from the manufacturer, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority to inspect suspension bar assemblies on those aircraft.

The flight from the Gullfaks B offshore rig ended when the main rotor and mast detached as the helicopter was cruising at 2,000 ft. The combined cockpit voice and flight data recorder stopped recording voices and performance parameters within 1 to 2 sec of the accident sequence’s start at about 11:55 a.m. local time, the board said. “There are no indications that flight crew actions were a factor in the accident,” the report observed.

The helicopter’s wreckage was scattered over three islands and surrounding waters about 13 nm north-northwest of the destination, the airport at Flesland.

A video published after the crash appeared to show a five-bladed main rotor separated from a helicopter and failing through the sky near the crash scene.

According to a map released by the board, main rotor servo parts were found on land left and right of the flight path and before the main wreckage field on that path. The main rotor was found on land about 1,600 ft north of the main wreckage, and main rotor blade part sections were found on land short of the main rotor and beyond, as far out as 2,300 ft from the main wreckage, which was recovered from water.

The Norwegian board is being assisted in the probe by EASA, France’s Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, QinetiQ from the U.K., Airbus and CHC. R&WI

Offshore Industry to Conduct Safety Review

On the heels of recent helicopter tragedies, members at HeliOffshore’s second annual conference said they will perform a review of the offshore fleet and determine any improvements needed for an increased safety of operations worldwide.

The review will be done in partnership with aircraft manufacturers, offshore operators, the oil and gas industry, regulators and organizations in the supply chain to the offshore helicopter industry. HeliOffshore CEO Gretchen Haskins said that “increasing information sharing” remains to be the company’s priority.

Because of such collaboration, two helicopter manufacturers have published flight-crew operations manuals, HeliOffshore has created a best practice for health and usage monitoring systems, and an eye-tracking research program was created to enhance performance of crews in the cockpit.

Members at the conference also agreed to speed up implementation of enhanced terrain awareness and warning systems in their offshore fleet by the end of 2017.

Despite the slowdown in demand for offshore helicopter services, both membership within HeliOffshore and attendance at its conference are up. R&WI

Third AW609 Prototype Completes Ground Run

Flight testing for the AW609 is expected to begin this summer.Photo courtesy of Leonardo-Finmeccanica

Testing of the third AgustaWestland AW609 prototype is progressing, according to parent Leonardo-Finmeccanica, with the tilt rotor having made its first tethered ground run May 4 at the company’s facilities in Cascina Costa, Italy.

The No. 3 aircraft also has completed the rotation of its rotor/nacelle units from the upright helicopter mode to the horizontal airplane mode on the test stand, Leonardo Managing Director-Helicopters Daniele Romiti said at AHS’s 72nd Technical Forum in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The company expects the No. 3 aircraft to join in FAA certification flight testing this summer at its facility in Philadelphia. A fourth prototype is expected to enter the test fleet next year, with certification expected in 2018. R&WI

US Marine Corps Takes 2 K-MAXs

The Kaman K-MAX is capable of flying unmanned.Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps

The first two Kaman K-MAX helicopters arrived at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona, in early May. The K-MAX’s primary mission is to provide cargo load operations with a max payload of 6,000 lb. It can also fly unmanned.

“These two particular aircraft were over in Afghanistan for almost three years flying unmanned, and moving almost five million pounds of cargo, keeping numerous convoys off the road, preventing any roadside attacks,” said Jerry McCawley, a chief pilot and flight safety engineer with Lockheed Martin.

The aircraft will use the station’s training ranges in Arizona and California and will be integral in testing and operations along with the rest of the station’s military fleet. R&WI

Used Helicopter Sales Slump Nearly 20%, JETNET Says

Used-aircraft asking prices plunged more than 25% for turbine-powered helicopters and sales of those and piston helos sank nearly 20% in this year’s first quarter, compared to the same period in 2015, according to JETNET LLC. Prices for used piston-powered helicopters in the period increased 14.4%, it noted.

Rotorcraft weren’t alone in suffering such ill effects. Asking prices slipped and inventories of used aircraft increased in March for all types — business jets, business turboprops, helicopters and commercial airliners — compared to the same month last year, according to the Utica, New York-based corporate aviation/commercial aviation consulting firm.

The first-quarter performance marked a pause in a six-yr recovery of business jet sales.

In the first quarter, JETNET said, used turbine-helicopter sales dropped 19.8% and sales of piston ones fell 19%. They sold faster this year compared to first quarter 2015. On average, the firm said, turbine sales closed 45 days faster (with an average time on market of 455 days) and piston sales 10 days faster (with an average of 389 days on the market). But turbine asking prices decreased 25.5% year over year. R&WI

US Marines Train With British Commandos

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps

Marines from I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) post security during fast rope inserts with a Bell Helicopter UH-1Y May 9. This training was a part of a helicopter rope suspension techniques training package by 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, I MEF. To enhance interoperability, Marines and Royal British Commandos practiced together. They started on a rappel tower prior to fast roping out of helicopters hovering 40 ft off the ground. R&WI

L-M Still Getting Its Head Around Sikorsky

Lockheed Martin’s leadership is still grappling with how to explain the near-term impact of Sikorsky on its operations and finances.

“I am still getting my head around describing Sikorsky and what the expectation should be” for the unit’s impact, L-M EVP and CFO Bruce Tanner said in briefing financial analysts April 26 on the aerospace and defense giant first quarter results.

Sikorsky’s performance was “maybe slightly better than our expectations” from a revenue and an earnings-before-interest-and-taxes perspective, he said, adding that the parent expects “sequential growth in sales at Sikorsky quarter over quarter” and its profit margin.

L-M’s overall Q1 net earnings slipped 9.6% to $794 million this year from $878 million for the same period last year. Net sales were up 15.7%, from roughly $10.1 billion to $11.7 billion. That gain was supported substantially by a 51.8% leap in sales for L-M’s Mission Systems and Training segment, the home of Sikorsky since it was acquired from United Technologies in November.

That segment’s sales increase “was primarily attributable” to Sikorsky’s net sales of about $990 million, L-M said, noting that financial adjustments for the acquisition were made last year. The segment’s earnings rose 23.1%, to $229 million from $180 million in 2015’s first quarter.

“Significant progress was achieved” on the U.S. Marine Corps’s CH-53K program, said L-M Chairman, President and CEO Marillyn Hewson, noting the second prototype’s first flight in February. R&WI

Bell Shifts Plans, Will Build 505 in Canada

Bell Helicopter is dropping plans to build its new light single in Louisiana and instead will produce the 505 Jet Ranger X at the Canadian plant that has made its civil helicopters for 30 years.

Bell was well into the process of gaining certification of the new Lafayette, Louisiana, facility to produce the 505. It was designed for that purpose. Instead, Bell said May 19, it immediately would start moving 505 work to the plant in Mirabel, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal. Bell and Textron set up that plant in 1986 with financial backing from the Canadian and provincial governments.

In turn, Bell will shift subassembly of cabins for its new 525 Relentless from its Amarillo, Texas, facility to Lafayette. The Louisiana facility also will gain work to modify Model 407s to the MQ-8C Fire Scout, said Bell. That work now is done at Bell’s Ozark, Alabama, site for Northrop Grumman, which is producing the unmanned aircraft system for the U.S. Navy.

Bell built the first three Bell 505 flight test vehicles at Mirabel and is pursuing type certificate (and production certification) of that aircraft this year with Transport Canada. The manufacturer said the moves are not expected to impact the certification of the 505 or the 525. R&WI

FAA Plans New Drone Advisory, Safety Groups

The FAA in early May announced plans for two new drone groups.

The agency plans on setting up a standing committee to advise it on how to integrate drones in civil airspace and also plans to set up a joint team with the industry later this year to track and analyze commercial drone safety and recommend measures for mitigating specific weaknesses.

The agency has tasked RTCA with recommending how many representatives should serve on the advisory group and what procedures should be used in conducting its work.

Drones have been the subject of recent FAA advisory groups.Photo by Mark Colborn

Santa Clara, California-based technology company Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich has agreed to lead the new advisory committee. About 30 leaders drawn from throughout the aviation and unmanned systems industries would work with FAA officials to prioritize policy and research integration issues that must be tackled and in building broad industry support for the agency’s efforts, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at the annual Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference.

The drone safety team would be modeled on the agency/industry Commercial Aviation Safety Team, the work of which since 1997 has contributed to improvements in airline safety throughout the world. That model has been extended to general aviation (through the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee), and the International Helicopter Safety Team has adopted a similar approach.

The team would be able to work with fresh data on operations generated by FAA reporting requirements contained in Section 333 exemptions under which such drones operate. The collection of incident and accident data might be more challenging. R&WI