Significant milestones will foster discussion this year on the exhibit floor and in the hallways of Heli-Expo in Dallas this month.
Leonardo will mark the FAA’s validation of its EASA type certificate for the intermediate, medium-weight, twin-engine AW169 and approval that was 19 months in the making. Bell Helicopter will highlight Transport Canada’s December type certification of its light, single-engine 505 Jet Ranger X (and point toward the end of production of its 206L4 LongRanger.)
Airbus Helicopters commemorates the 20th anniversary of its light, twin, multi-mission H135 (formerly the EC135), which will be at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center fitted with its newly certificated Helionix avionics suite. That manufacturer also will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm BO105’s first flight.
For 50 years, StandardAero has been overhauling the M250 turboshaft engine. The independent maintenance, repair and overhaul firm will honor that legacy at the show.
R&WI has its own milestones this year: our Golden Anniversary. We began publishing as Rotor & Wing in January 1967 and since then have been providing news and intelligence on the vertical-flight industry as the business resource of rotorcraft management. Please visit us at booth 9561 to celebrate with us and learn about our anniversary plans for the year.
These and other milestones will be marked as organizations and individuals throughout the industry search for signs of an end to the slump that began in 2008 to 2009 and intensified in 2015 with the plunge in oil prices.
Forecasts by Honeywell and others that typically precede the show will provide new assessments of markets. They are not expected to change substantially from ongoing tallies that point to persistent weakness in oil prices into 2018 and related adverse effects on demand for medium and heavy helicopters (both in terms of services by them and new sales of them).
A January gathering of industry analysts in Washington, D.C., found that deliveries of new helicopters are off on the order of 50% over the past two years. That group, which gathers at least twice a year, reviewed eight separate forecasts by OEMs and others. Each forecast was made with its own data sets assumptions, and the group’s discussions were preliminary. But a collective summary of the forecasts indicated projections of helicopter deliveries over the next 10 years had dropped by more than 5% since the group’s 2016 meeting and had fallen more than 20% since the prognosticators met at the start of last year.
It’s Not Louisville
One small, bright aspect for Heli-Expo exhibitors and attendees in the midst of that gloom is that they are not in Louisville, Kentucky, and have been spared travel, shipping and logistics associated with HAI’s decision to hold the trade show there last year.
Many in the industry have come to grips with the reality that the current predicament amounts to a crisis. They have spent the last two years or so working to survive that situation; now many are looking to unmask opportunities amidst the turmoil. As one example, small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are expected to have a larger presence at the show this year. That reflects an evolution in thinking among many players, who formally viewed small drones as a threat to their aircraft, crews and passengers, but now recognize the business reality of such aircraft. They are here to stay, the thinking of such executives goes, and commercial helicopter operators who embrace that gain a competitive advantage over those who don’t. (See “The Great Embrace” on page 32.)
Operators are searching for opportunities in more traditional markets as well. Robinson Helicopter will be highlighting its law enforcement-configured R66 (which debuted in 2012 at Heli-Expo in Dallas) as well as its R44 Cadet. The turbine R66 might offer a comparatively low-cost option for police agencies seeking an air capability, particularly those willing to pool their funds and manpower with neighboring agencies. The Cadet offers added performance as a trainer, with a corresponding safety margin.
Given pressures to control costs in a tight business environment, many operators are looking to expand their capabilities through upgrades rather than new purchases. Many outfits are targeting this market, such as Rogerson Kratos. It has developed a cockpit upgrade for civil and military Sikorsky UH-60A and L operators that it said replicates the U.S. Army’s UH-60M pilot-vehicle interface.
The company is pursuing an FAA type certificate and supplemental type certificate for the cockpit modernization upgrade, which it plans to display at the show.
OEMs will be updating show attendees on their new aircraft programs. Airbus will discuss the progress of its medium, twin H160, which it targets for certification in 2018, as well as the status of its Helionix that is intended to serve as family of advanced avionics for its aircraft (starting with the H145, H175, H135 and H160).
Leonardo will provide a status of its AW609 civil tiltrotor following the recent resumption of flight tests after the October 2015 fatal crash in Italy that destroyed a prototype and killed two test pilots. Likewise, look from Bell to brief customers on its 525 “super-medium” twin program, which has been grounded since the July 2016 crash of its prototype, which also killed two test pilots. R&WI