Aviation Regulators Commit to International Streamlining
Top aviation regulators have committed to implementing streamlined certification rules that move between major aviation markets.
Certification leaders of civil aviation authorities in the U.S., Europe, Canada and Brazil in August established a joint strategy for simplifying procedures for mutual acceptance of each others' safety certifications of helicopters and other aircraft, and additional systems and accessories intended to improve their utility. The signatory agencies are the U.S. FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Transport Canada and Brazil's Agencia Nacional de Aviacão Civil (ANAC).
The move won some industry praise.
General Aviation Manufacturers Assn. President and CEO Pete Bunce called the move an “extremely important step forward to strengthen global leadership and streamline certification.” Bunce added that GAMA and its member companies “look forward to analyzing the plans in more detail, providing input on any future revisions.”
Differences between national certification standards and procedures often slow development and market introduction of helicopters, systems and equipment. Manufacturers must undergo technical reviews, perform additional testing and file extensive documents on the results before one aviation authority’s certification is validated and accepted by another. That can take months.
One example is the AW169, which won EASA type certification in July 2015. Leonardo is still pursuing FAA certification of the aircraft.
Another is the FAA’s review of guidance on certification of helo inlet barrier filters, which critics argue is spurred in part by disparities with EASA’s guidance. The differences have stymied the development and sale of new-design inlet barrier filters, which have proven benefits.
The regulators’ commitment to clearing certification hurdles came in a “collaboration strategy,” which they jointly published Aug. 29.
They acknowledged that challenges remain to full acceptance of one nation’s certification by another “without any technical assessment or issuance of a validation approval.” Thus their respective agencies “are committed to implementing risk-based validation principles and taking immediate steps to eliminate technical involvement.”
Implementing their strategy would “reduce certification authority resource expenditure, ensure a high degree of safety and promote regulatory cooperation and harmonization.”
Helos From Italy, France Rescue Tourists Stranded in Alps Cable Cars
Helicopter teams rescued dozens of the 110 tourists stranded mid-air in cable cars over the French Alps overnight Sept. 9. The rescue included a Eurocopter EC145 operated by France’s civil defense agency, Sécurité Civile, and two Leonardo AW139s operated by Italy’s Airgreen, among other efforts. While helicopters were able to bring most of the tourists to safety, the remaining people had to stay in the cable cars overnight while crews waited until first light to resume the mission. High winds and twisted cables are the most likely cause of the gondola malfunction, which left 36 cars immobile. Safety blankets, food and water were supplied to those stranded overnight. Photo courtesy of Paul Nash / CC BY-SA 3.0
HAL Completes Test Flight of Light Utility Helo
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) completed the first flight of its Light Utility Helicopter Sept. 6 at its facility in Bangalore, India.
The company said the 15-min flight was “flawless.”
The LUH prototype is powered by Safran’s Ardiden 1U engine. The 3-ton, single-engine, multi-purpose aircraft is designed to carry out various utility roles, including reconnaissance, transport, cargo and rescue operations. The LUH is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots and operate from sea level to Himalayan altitudes. It is intended to replace the Indian Air Force’s fleet of Cheetahs and Chetaks.
HAL tagged Safran for the new engine in 2014, making the process of getting to maiden flight less than three years. Certification of the Ardiden 1U is planned for 2018.
At that time, a recently formed Safran/HAL venture will start up, providing maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for engines installed on HAL helicopters, according to Safran.
LABACE Targets South American Market Activity
The rotorcraft market in South America is alive, despite the industry-wide decline in demand. Companies are not shying away from the market there, as was evident in orders from the 13th annual Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (LABACE) in São Paulo, Brazil, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.
Exhibitors included Airbus and its Vector Aerospace unit, Bell Helicopter and Leonardo-Finmeccanica.
Airbus used the event to launch a Brazilian tour of the first conversion by its Helibras subsidiary of an EC135 P2 to the H135 configuration. Vector displayed its range of service offerings.
Bell, participating jointly with sister company Textron Aviation, featured three aircraft in the event. It displayed the Bell Helicopter 429 with the MAGnificient interior, the 407GXP and the 505 Jet Ranger X.
Activity at the show extended beyond window-shopping. Leonardo-Finmeccanica sold five helicopters to three different customers from Argentina and Venezuela. The sales included one AW169 and four GrandNews. These add to the 250 commercial helicopters already in the South American market across a fleet of AW109s, AW119s and AW139s.
Bell said nearly 80 of received 380 letters of intent for the 505 are from Latin American customers.
US Court Backs Leo’s Lakota Bid Challenge
A U.S. court has backed Leonardo’s challenge to the U.S. Army’s contract for 16 more Airbus Helicopters UH-72As, giving the service six months to justify or re-compete it or drop the acquisition.
Leonardo challenged the Army’s modification late last year of the original 2006 Light Utility Helicopter program contract to purchase more Lakotas on the grounds that Airbus was a responsible sole source. Judge Susan Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled Aug. 15 that the Army had violated federal procurement law. That court primarily hears money claims based on federal laws and regulations.
Braden’s decision bars the Army from proceeding with or awarding the contract and puts the deal on hold for six months. She gave the Army that long to decide whether it would proceed with a competitive procurement or issue a new justification and approval (J&A) giving the work to Airbus. Braden also said the Army could choose not to proceed with the procurement.
AgustaWestland lost out on the original contract to Airbus (EADS at the time). The 2006 contract was valued at $43 million for eight low-rate initial production Lakotas, a variant of the EC145, with options for up to 483. The Army to date has received more than 350 UH-72As.
Braden ruled Leonardo and other potential competitors, while not entitled to contracts, are entitled to demonstrate the competitive benefits of their products. She said there may have been technical advances and/or reductions in the cost of offerings in the last decade, and the lifespan of the Lakotas has been estimated to be between 21 and 25 yr.
Braden said it may be many years before another major purchase is made by the Army and that this justified her decision.
She also ruled a 2014 Army executive order establishing the Lakota as the “only one responsible source” for training aircraft and a December J&A violated federal procurement law. Braden said the Army could have begun the process to purchase these 16 helicopters subject to full and open competition in 2014 or earlier.
Instead, Braden said, the service proceeded to “standardize” on the Lakota, endorsed a flawed independent government estimate and misrepresented the statutory and regulatory authorization for the December J&A, among other deficiencies. She said Leonardo could also provide training helos meeting Army requirements.
“If there is a genuine need for the 16 ... or perhaps a larger number, the most efficient way for the Army to proceed is to commence a competitive procurement,” Braden said in her ruling.
Japan Tests Quake Response Capabilities
Japan held a major drill Sept. 1 to test national, prefecture and local government agencies’ responses to a simulated massive earthquake off its central and eastern coasts.
Rotorcraft participating in the drill included U.S. Marine Corps Bell Boeing MV-22s transporting disaster medical assistance teams and other personnel from the Japan Ground Self-Defense force base in Sasebo, near Nagasaki.
The drill simulated a magnitude 9.1 earthquake that struck at 7:10 a.m. off the southern coast of Wakayama Prefecture on Japan’s main island of Honshu.
In addition to the national exercise, local governments held separate drills. In total, press reports said, about 1 million people in 36 of Japan’s 47 prefectures participated in the drills.
Such exercises are held annually on Sept. 1, or National Disaster Prevention Day in Japan. The day marks the anniversary of a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that devastated Tokyo in 1923, killing more than 105,000 people.
Era Group Partners on Drones With Industrial Safety Firm
Era Group is partnering with a leading industrial-safety firm to offer unmanned aircraft for construction, engineering, inspection and survey work, emergency response and disaster recovery.
The Houston, Texas-based major helicopter operator has formed an Unmanned Aerial Solutions service and struck a deal to be the exclusive provider of drone services to Total Safety, the industrial inspection and safety services firm that also is based in Houston. In turn, Total Safety will be the exclusive provider of inspection services for Era’s drone offering.
Era’s new unmanned aircraft system (UAS) service “results from our continuing commitment to develop innovative and efficient technologies to better serve our partners,” said SVP of Commercial Paul White. Unmanned technology “presents nearly limitless use cases due to numerous available flight platforms and sensory applications.”
Total Safety SVP of Business Development Darrell Whitley said unmanned aircraft “provide one of the most important technological breakthroughs we have seen in compliance and safety.” He added that “remote aerial systems allow us to get close to potentially dangerous environments without endangering people and they allow us to do it less expensively than ever before.”
The potential business opportunities of unmanned aircraft for helicopter operators was a featured topic of Rotor & Wing International’s Rotorcraft Technology Summit Sept. 19 and 20 in Fort Worth, Texas. The panel discussing “Drones as a Business Opportunity” on Sept. 19 included Era Helicopters’ director of business development, Richard Marcus.
The Era-Total Safety alliance comes as each company is struggling to overcome the negative effects of the global oil downturn on their businesses.
Era on Aug. 2 reported an 83.1% plunge in second-quarter net income, to $1.9 million from $11.3 million for the quarter that ended June 30, 2015. Its operating revenues fell 10% over the period, to $63.4 million from $70.7 million. “Industry conditions remain very challenging,” said Era Group President/CEO Chris Bradshaw, adding that the quarter’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were the company’s lowest in several years.
Moody’s Investor Service has downgraded its rating of the debt of Total Safety’s holding company. The May 23 move reflected “Moody’s expectation of further deterioration in Total Safety’s operating and financial performance driven by intense pricing pressure and weakening activity levels,” the ratings firm said.
In February 2015, Total Safety became one of 24 companies first approved by the U.S. FAA to use unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes. It initially used drones to inspect industrial-facility flare stacks. It since has expanded its drone services, adding sensor technology and inspections and site surveys.
Total Safety said the partnership will allow it and Era “to safely and economically add expanded flight operations, technology and data processing capabilities” for UAS services at chemical plants, refineries, pipelines, tank batteries, onshore and offshore drilling and production sites, midstream oil and gas facilities and other industrial and manufacturing environments.
Total Safety added that its alliance with Era would allow drones “to be deployed for post-incident response and disaster-recovery efforts.
As that company explained the approach, it and Era would assign a two- to three-person flight team of aviation, safety and inspection experts to each project based on client and FAA requirements. The partners will customize the UAS platform “around sensor and software packages for optimized collection of high-definition (HD) still imagery, HD video, thermal imaging, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) for leak detection and repair, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), 3D mapping, geo-referenced or point-cloud modeling” and transfer to computer-aided design (CAD)-enabled tools.
Helo Line Pilots Have Seat on Drone Panel
A notable milestone marked Sept. 16’s first meeting in Washington of the FAA’s new Drone Advisory Committee (DAC): a representative of helicopter line pilots was at the table.
Commercial airline pilots have long been a fixture at FAA-industry deliberations on safety and policy decisions, in the form of an Air Line Pilots Assn. representative or two. ALPA was the only group that had two members on last year’s FAA task force on creating a small drone registry; an ALPA rep also sits on the new drone advisory committee.
But so too does a representative of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Assn. (PHPA). That union’s president, Steven Rush, was among the 35 members named by FAA Admin. Michael Huerta to the committee to advise the agency on integrating drones into civil U.S. airspace. The only other rotorcraft representative on the panel is Helicopter Assn. International President Matt Zuccaro.
Nearly 400 individuals and organizations expressed interest in serving on the committee, according to the FAA. It is chaired by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. The inaugural meeting was at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It took a long time for the line pilots to get a voice at the table on committees such as this,” Rush told R&WI. “It’s been a long time coming but we’re there. And that’s been my goal for the last 15 years: to get our voice heard at this level.”
PHPA is a council of the Office and Professional Employees International Union representing the interests of member air medical helicopter and fixed-wing pilots and assists in collective bargaining, among other duties.
“Just over 1,500 of our members fly the air ambulance helicopters, and the drones operate pretty much in their environment,” said Rush. “So our major thrust will be to see how the integration into the airspace is going to affect [the pilots].”
The DAC stems from the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Registration Task Force and the MicroUAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which had limited durations. The new committee is a long-lasting one under the RTCA.
Conservation Group Funding Anti-Poaching Helo
A conservation fund is dedicating $500,000 for helicopter support to fight poaching of endangered animals in South Africa.
The GES Africa Conservation Fund said donations will pay for “a critically needed quick-reaction” helicopter supporting anti-poaching operations in the Greater Kruger National Park region of northeast South Africa.
The move comes as public attention on poaching, or illegal hunting of endangered species, is growing.
South Africa’s highest court was scheduled to rule last month on the validity of that nation’s 7-yr-old ban on trade in rhinoceros horns, which are coveted in some Asian nations for their perceived medicinal benefits. (Trade in rhino horns has been banned by international treaty since 1977.)
On Aug. 12, international technology firms said they would collaborate with wildlife advocacy groups to avoid facilitating illegal trade in endangered species carcasses and parts. The firms, which include eBay, Microsoft, Pinterest and Yahoo, pledged to work with the World Wildlife Fund, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and others to cut off what they said “has unintentionally become a thriving platform for buyers and sellers to trade illegal wildlife products” through the internet.
Last January, a British pilot died after poachers reportedly fired on his Robinson helicopter. The pilot, Roger Gower, was said to have been working with wildlife authorities to track down elephant poachers in the Maswa Game Reserve in northern Tanzania. He survived the crash landing, officials said, but died before he could be rescued.
The latest effort, in South Africa, is intended to help protect what the GES Africa Conservation Fund described as the largest private rhino population in the world. It said it alone has more than 1,500 rhinos that are under direct protection in the Greater Kruger area, which includes Kruger National Park and surrounding private nature reserves that collectively cover more than 7,700 sq mi (20,000 sq km). The fund is sponsored by the NEAH Global Energy Solutions (GES) Group, which says it operates “the leading wildlife management operation in South Africa.”
Airbus Eyes Flying Car Tests Next Year
Airbus Group has performed preliminary design work on a flying car and an electric-powered flying bus and is building and testing subsystems for the car prototype, which it aims to fly by the end of next year.
The projects are spurred by the growth and increasing congestion of urban areas throughout the world, Airbus said, citing projections that 10% more people will live in cities by 2030 and many of them will reside in “megacities” with populations exceeding 10 million people each.
Airbus said its projects include one called Vahana (to develop an autonomous aircraft for individual passenger and cargo transport), another dubbed Skyways (to lay the groundwork for regulations permitted autonomous aircraft flight over congested areas) and a third, aimed at rapidly developing a multi-passenger aircraft tentatively called CityAirbus.
Flight tests of the first Vahana prototype are slated for the end of 2017. The company has been developing the project since February, Airbus said.
Is Australian Tiger Fleet ‘Deficient’?
The Australian Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) Tiger fleet of 22 aircraft has “not yet delivered the original capability expected by the Australian Government,” according to a 64-page Australian National Audit Office report released Sept. 1.
The report cited 76 capability deficiencies regarding operational requirements in the Airbus Helicopters aircraft, 60 of which were deemed “critical” by the Defense Dept. The audit office’s citations also included obsolete or near-obsolete systems. Fewer than four aircraft out of 16 on the operational fleet “were serviceable at 10 a.m. on any given day in 2015, against a target of 12 aircraft,” according to the report.
The Defense Dept. agreed to both Audit Office recommendations: implementing arrangements to adopt lessons learned from project reviews of contract and sustainment arrangements, and assessing the value-for-money in further investment in the Tiger fleet for a short period of performance against other alternatives.
Australia is one of four countries that operate the Tiger aircraft, which has an international fleet of 119. The ARH is important to the Australian Army because of its desired combat capabilities: it is intended to undertake escort missions and provide support to covering force, helicopter attack and recovery missions.
The Tigers’ 2001 acquisition and through-life support contract was valued at more than $1.1 billion.
Lawmakers Appeal Sikorsky Marine One Change
U.S. lawmakers are appealing to the Navy secretary to reverse a decision to pull maintenance of U.S. Marine Corps VH-3D presidential transports and shift it to a military depot.
Maintenance done at Sikorsky’s “Yankee White” facility in Stratford, Connecticut, is being shifted to the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville, Florida.
The decision to move the work was made after Sikorsky was unable to agree with the Navy on a contract.
Connecticut’s two senators and the two members of the House of Representatives whose district’s include Stratford wrote to U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in late August, urging him to suspend any transfer of the work until a thorough review of its direct and indirect costs are made.
“No other facility has the standing expertise” to perform maintenance on the helicopters popularly known as Marine One, senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and U.S. representatives Rosa DeLauro and Jim Himes wrote to Mabus. The helicopters are operated by Marine Helicopter Squadron One, or HMX-1.
The systems and capabilities of the VH-3Ds are classified and sensitive. (A VH-3D bears the call sign Marine One when the president is onboard.) Marine One’s job is to transport the president and his staff and to maintain the president’s communications links with the U.S. national command structure in an emergency.
The lawmakers told Mabus “any other facility will require time and money to reach the same standard of maintenance [of Sikorsky], if they can ever meet this challenge.” R&WI