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Where Your Business is Headed: A Summit Focus

9 highlights from the Rotorcraft Business & Technology Summit. Photos by Ed Garza

Rotor & Wing International’s third annual industry gathering, the Rotorcraft Business & Technology Summit, held Sept. 20 to 21 in Fort Worth, Texas, hosted about 100 various members of the vertical-lift community to discuss latest trends throughout many of today’s industry sectors. Though it was the third rendition of the summit, attendees saw many firsts, including a session on urban mobility, a keynote from Uber Engineering — even a new session format with increased time for interaction with attendees.

Rotorcraft Certification Initiatives

  • Jorge Castillo, Manager, Regulations and Policy Section, Rotorcraft Standards Branch, FAA
  • William Goebel, Certification Projects Manager, Airbus Helicopters Inc.
  • Wayne Fry, Division Manager, Flight Standards Division, FAA

A mainstay topic for R&WI summits, this session kicked off the day Sept. 20 by providing an update on a range of current and pending rotorcraft certification issues.

Castillo explained that the FAA has seen many changes in the industry it did not foresee when the agency’s Aircraft Certification Service’s AIR Transformation initiative launched. Castillo showed how in response to those changes, the department realigned its existing offices. Most notably, for example, Lance Gant, formerly the manager of the Rotorcraft Directorate, leads the new Compliance & Airworthiness Division.

On a similar note, Fry explained the organizational and cultural changes at the FAA’s Flight Standards Service to become a “functionally based organization,” not a geography-based one. He presented the service’s proposed structure made up of a more efficient breakdown of divisions under four managements: air carrier, general aviation, standards and foundational business. “It’s a multi-year project. ... The cultural change, we’re thinking two or three years before we get the hang of it,” said Fry.

Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) and Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS)

  • Stan Rose, CEO, Helicopter Safety Alliance
  • Ed Stockhausen, Director of Safety, Metro Aviation
  • Peter Henrikson, President, Truth Data
  • Francois Lassale, Operations Director, HeliOffshore
  • Kenneth Speaks, CEO, RMCI

Stan Rose, whose role with HSA is to reach small helicopter operators, led this panel on the premise that small operators are not receiving the same insight into the benefits of FDM and HUMS as the larger operators. In fact, operators of any size can benefit from combining the tools to get the necessary analytical data needed to improve operations and efficiency.

Stockhausen introduced the idea of using a flight operations and quality assurance (FOQA) system in conjunction with FDM. FOQA, which has already proved to be a precedented necessity in the fixed-wing world, can be derived from HUMS data. Lee Benson discusses this observation further in his column (R&WI, November/December 2017, “Big Brother"). Stockhausen described a process in which Metro Aviation used FOQA to automatically review data based on particular parameters and triggers, leading the operator to implement a procedure for stabilized VFR approach and consistently monitor it to determine where further pilot training would be needed.

Echoing that sentiment, Henrikson explained, “You don’t need to look at FDM separate from HUMS.” The value, he said, is to “overlay the flight data on the health of the aircraft.”

Check out further information on FDM benefits for small operators (R&WI, November/December 2017, “The Value of Data...”).

Uber Elevate

  • Mark Moore, Director of Aviation, Uber Technologies Inc
  • Stan Swaintek, Uber Elevate Head of Operations
  • Wyatt Smith, Uber Elevate Business Development
  • Scott Drennan, Director-Innovation, Bell Helicopter
  • Rex Alexander, Head of Aviation Infrastructure, Uber Technologies Inc
  • Tom Prevot, Director of Airspace Systems, Uber Technologies Inc

Closing out the first day, Moore presented Uber’s initiative in introducing aerial ridesharing to the Dallas market. He explained that the key to this technology is not battery energy levels, but the ability to recharge them fast. Uber’s vision is to set up heliports on top of existing parking structures and to set up charging stations, similar to Tesla’s for automobiles. Moore then invited his panel on stage for an audience Q&A discussion amid reception treats.

State of the Business

  • Alex Youngs, VP of Strategy & Analysis, Vector Aerospace
  • B.J. Raysor, SVP of Operations, SevenBar Aviation
  • Allan Rowe, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Commercial, Waypoint Leasing
  • Don Roby, Training Program Manager, Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA)
  • Imran Hayat, Chief Compliance Officer & Chief Litigation Counsel, CHC Helicopter
  • Les Clark, Manager, Data Analysis, Vector Aerospace

The downturn in the oil and gas industry and the focus of opportunities elsewhere were among the discussions of this panel.

Clark pointed out the fundamental changes in society that will in turn contribute to a change in rotorcraft operations. These changes include electric and hybrid automobiles, which would logically affect the demand in oil, he said.

Hayat discussed CHC Helicopter’s own challenges in this realm. The operator had just emerged from U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year and has since shifted his focus on other areas of the industry, such as search and rescue and emergency medical operations.

But air medical is also seeing its own set of challenges. Raysor pointed out the uncertainty with the direction of the U.S.’ Affordable Care Act putting much of the operational growth on hold as the nation awaits its direction.

Rowe expressed how the oil downturn led to Waypoint learning the value of leasing — with the ability to reposition or reconfigure aircraft wherever in the industry they are needed. “The key to lowering cost is higher utilization,” he said. “Lessors will be able to do more for more people in the industry.”

On the law enforcement side, grounded helicopters have become widespread among many units amid the economic downturn as a whole. Roby explained how many firefighting and law enforcement units in the U.S. subsequently merged services to create a general public service operation. Drones also made their way in, he said, with more than 600 U.S. agencies now incorporating drones in their operations. Even the ALEA has begun to increase its training focus on operating and maintaining unmanned aerial vehicles.

Low-Level Infrastructure and Vertical Flight

  • Rex Alexander, Head of Aviation Infrastructure, Uber Technologies, Inc.
  • Rune Duke, Director of Government Affairs, Airspace & Air Traffic, Aircraft Owners And Pilots Assn (AOPA)
  • Cliff Johnson, Research Engineer & Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Lead, FAA Technical Center
  • Jonathan Godfrey, CMO, LZ Control

Constant infrastructure improvements are crucial to maintaining safety in rotorcraft operations. Alexander, who recently was appointed a role at Uber Technologies, identified various actions or needs the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) has identified in advancing this effort, including a heliport-specific database, infrared and LED lighting standards and a helicopter-specific FAA accident investigation form.

Johnson shared the status of an FDM voluntary safety program to share such data. He also said the FAA is working with the USHST to improve the current system of airports (the FAA Airport Master Record 5010) that currently captures airport information but lacks necessary heliport information.

Perhaps a more immediate solution is LZControl’s international heliport database. Godfrey explained that the app, which is currently in read-only mode, acts as a crowdsourcing platform of heliport information similar to what Waze is for car drivers.

Duke discussed an RTCA effort to have a predominately performance-based navigation U.S. national airspace system by 2025 by reducing new routes and optimizing existing point-to-point routes. He also identified a need for a long-term navigational-aid plan and better weather information.

The Future of Rotorcraft: Autonomy

  • Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director, American Helicopter Society International
  • Mark Cherry, (former) President, Aurora Flight Sciences
  • Layne Merrit, Chief Engineer, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center
  • James Blyn, Propulsion Engineer & Rotorcraft UAS Focal, Regulations and Policy Section, Rotorcraft Standards Branch, FAA
  • Michael McNair, Innovation Manager, Autonomy, Bell Helicopter

Would you trust autonomous rotorcraft? The sentiment among this panel is that you should because the technology will thrive. Still, there is some work to do before we get there.

As Merritt explained, autonomous aircraft will need to advance by being able to make decisions themselves, whereas they only make recommendations now. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) today are also not capable of maneuvering alongside helicopters. Advancing that capability will require evermore sensors, which can be cost prohibitive.

“When it comes to autonomy, it’s really an interesting integration between people, manned platforms and unmanned platforms,” said McNair. There are more players involved in an atuonomous mission than just those on board an aircraft, he added.

The future will see more players involved in these innovations. Historically, the global war on terror acted as the catalyst for a seamless adoption of UAS, but now the commercial side is contributing to autonomous innovations, Cherry noted.

Building Urban Mobility

  • Uma Subramanian, CEO, Voom, an Airbus Subsidiary

Airbus is investing in the concept of “urban air mobility,” or the use of vertical-flight aircraft (particularly electric-powered ones) to ease severe and worsening congestion in the world’s mega-cities. A top investigator of those breakthrough technologies is Uma Subramanian, CEO of Voom by Airbus, an experimental helicopter ride-sharing project launched last April in São Paulo, Brazil.

“We are in the market today to gather data, as much data as possible, to help influence the design of the optimal urban air mobility vehicle,” said Subramanian. “We are building an experimental bridge to tomorrow.”

Tapping “Big Data” for Efficiency and Safety

  • Brian Tucker, Associate Technical Fellow, Integrated Vehicle Health Management, Bell Helicopter
  • Josh Melin, Senior Product Line Manager, HUMS, Honeywell Aerospace
  • Dennis Dunaway, VP, PeopleTec Inc
  • Bjorn Stickling, Manager, Diagnostics, Prognostics & Engine Health Management, Pratt & Whitney Canada

Even further than FDM and HUMS, airframe and engine OEMs are exploring how to move beyond these tools toward a comprehensive and integrated aircraft and operations management system.

The value of such efforts is reduced unscheduled maintenance and increased safety. As Melin noted, the International Air Transport Association estimates predictive maintenance can drive a 35% increase in aircraft availability.

Pratt & Whitney Canada has an engine health management system in place on more than 18,000 of its engines, 5,600 of which are enrolled in the company’s oil analysis program. The engine maker’s system fuses a multitide of data, including that from weather, fault, trends, mission, configuration, maintenance, even invoicing for parts supply.

“If you want quality analytics, you need the data first,” Stickling said.

The company then uses the data to apply efforts such as prognostic modeling and validation, transient anomaly detection, maintenance credit approvals, useful-life prediction and more.

Some challenges in an integrated data system like this includes trust, as Tucker suggested, since there’s a potential for operators to use such data punitively against pilots — especially data that is identifying. He offered that the industry as a whole should agree to not use it as such since the value of safety far exceeds that.

Tech Hurdles to Drone Market Development

  • Todd Graetz, Director, Technology Services / Unmanned Aerial Systems, BNSF Railway
  • Brad Hayden, President & CEO, Robotic Skies
  • Jonathan Evans, Co-President, Skyward

Attendees were treated with the opportunity to converse with some industry insiders on perhaps the most immediate distruptive technology in vertical flight — drones.

Graetz, who heads beyond-line-of-sight efforts at BNSF railway to monitor thousands of miles of railroad track, explained how the company has since 2015 partnered with the FAA’s Pathfinder Program. That program aims to provide recommendations on how other organizations can safely and routinely fly UAS in commercial applications.

Evans, when co-founding drone operations management platform Skyward, had a vision of taking a software-based set of definitions of the airspace to create a more programmatic platform for it. “Our goal is to create a truly equitable airspace, so industry can innovate with drone technology, while maintaining the safety of other aircraft, and people and infrastructure on the ground,” Evans previously told R&WI.

Current discussion of drones surround what Hayden indentified as “segregation versus integration.” The sentiment among the group that resonated with attendees can best be described in that drones are here and will continue to thrive. The question is how will the industry embrace that? RWI