Heli-Expo 2003 Tops Prior Two Years -- In Only Two Days

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Reports of the death of helicopter aviation have been greatly exaggerated -- witness the plethora of visitors and sales at Heli-Expo 2003 in Dallas. As AVweb's Dave Higdon reports, sales are strong but new restrictions could threaten a recovery.

Forecasts of a delay before recovery of the helicopter market were barely out the door when sales of new helicopters at Heli-Expo 2003 started defying those prognostications. And with improvements in every other gauge by which convention successes are measured, the buzz on the floor of the Dallas Convention Center was considerably upbeat compared to the muted tone of the Orlando gathering a year ago.

"We're actually more than a little surprised, pleasantly so, but surprised," said Roy Resavage, president of the Helicopter Association International, the trade association that sponsored the three-day event that ended Feb. 11. "We had some indication coming in that this year would be stronger from an exhibitor perspective," Resavage explained. "What really took us by surprise was how strong participant attendance has been."

By the numbers, Heli-Expo 2003 exhibited signs of success on opening day, when registrations effectively matched the three-day total from 2002 -- about 11,400 for the first of the three-day run. By the time registration stands closed on the second day, attendance had hit 12,270, exceeding attendance of both the Anaheim meeting in 2001 and Orlando in 2002; third-day additions to the registration total had not been tallied as of this writing, but staff reported that there had been a steady trickle of people during the morning hours of the final day.

Other signs of a higher pace of helicopter business also manifested themselves at Heli-Expo 2003. HAI Vice President Glenn Rizner reported an increase in attendance at a series of education workshops that preceded the convention's Sunday opening, for example. "We're up about 75 people compared to the 300 or so that attended in Orlando," Rizner said.

(click photos for larger versions)
Convention Scene
Heli-Expo 2003 Conventiongoers
And according to Resavage, the number of businesses exhibiting also increased. Although there were some 11th-hour cancellations and additions, vendor participation was, Resavage said, up around 470 -- well above the 425 or so that exhibited last year.

Earlier in the convention Resavage noted that the helicopter operating community did well, "overall," in 2002. "They were able to survive the year and a lot of them even prospered," he noted. He cautioned that new airspace restrictions -- such as the new air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) around Washington, D.C. -- could precipitate a reversal of fortunes for helicopter companies and undo improvements of recent weeks.

But for the moment, at this convention, the helicopter community seemed to revel in its restored prosperity. In that regard, Heli-Expo 2003 more than proved out.

As of the end of Heli-Expo's second day, manufacturers reported recording more than 50 orders, about three times the number of purchase contracts signed at the convention last year. At the 2002 exhibition, the total of orders recorded failed to hit 20.

"We try to avoid playing the numbers game here," Resavage noted. "But by any measure you can pick, this year's convention has been surprisingly, pleasantly better than any of us would have expected."

"Sale-Abration" Or Aberration, Manufacturers Were Smiling

"There's no arguing about success when you're selling ..."

Convention Scene
Heli-Expo 2003 Conventiongoers
Agusta had good news; Bell's team was smiling; Enstrom's staff was elated; MD Helicopters advanced its orderbook; Robinson got good news; Sikorsky's sales staff was smiling; and the Schweizer folks were pleased. "There's no way around it -- we needed this," said one helicopter sales professional.

"And right now most of us are smiling because there's no arguing about success when you're selling."

Italy's Agusta found customers for its A119 Koala light single in the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol and in that most visible of metropolitan police departments, the NYPD. Pennsylvania's troopers are getting two of the light singles, while New York's finest will eventually have four -- all six equipped for their law-enforcement missions.

Bell took orders for nine helicopters in a mix of deals that totaled four 412s, three of the new AB139s, one 427 and one 430. Enstrom's new management had reason to celebrate after confirming orders for three new birds.

Eurocopter penned deals for two EC155s, two EC135s and an EC130. MDHI won sales of five MD902 Explorers to two customers, while Robinson Helicopters revealed the addition of five R44 Raven II four-place helicopters to its burgeoning backlog.

Sikorsky cashed in on a deal for 15 S-76C+ ships with Offshore Logistics and a pair of launch customers who bought five of its new heavy lift machine, the S-92. And Schweizer Helicopters confirmed orders for six new helicopters, a mix of 300CBi, 300C and 333 models.

Bell/Agusta Moves BA609 From The Test Rig To The Tarmac

Civil tiltrotor due to fly in April, but certification now out to 2007

Ground Test Photo Courtesy Bell/Augusta
Bell/Augusta 609 Ground Tests
Much-delayed and years behind, the BA609 business-turbine tiltrotor aircraft appears headed toward a new milestone in a few more weeks -- its long-awaited first flight. Now expected in April, this event will represent two landmarks for civil aviation: the first flight of the hybrid tiltrotor, which launches and lands like a helicopter but flies like a turboprop in normal flight at speeds up to 275 knots; and the first flight of a civil aircraft controlled by a full fly-by-wire system.

In a program update, officials of the partnership company said that the BA609 emerged from its test fixture in late January after logging 32 hours of time running the massive rotors under settings that ranged up to full engine power and cycling of the nacelles through much of their operating range. On Jan. 30, the BA609 also went through a series of six taxi tests that included speeds of up to 50 knots and further nacelle movements.

Between now and the first flight, Bell/Agusta's team will conduct further systems checks and prepare the aircraft for liftoff. And once that critical event transpires, the program will transition to the next phase of work.

Over the next four years, Bell/Agusta plans to fly four test-bed BA609s through 3,000 hours of flight tests in preparation for certification in February 2007. Two test aircraft will remain in Texas at Bell's Fort Worth facilities while two others are put through their paces at Agusta's Coscina Costa plant in Italy.

The new certification schedule announced stems in part from Bell's decision to increase its emphasis on completing work on the MV-22 Osprey military tiltrotor aircraft program long in the works with the U.S. Marine Corps. The increased focus on the MV-22 is geared to achieving operational status with the first Marine squadron in 2005.

Sikorsky, MD Helicopters, and Bell
Demo Flights
As a result, a smaller contingent of engineers and test crew will continue to advance the BA609. Meanwhile, the long-patient customer contingent continue to support the program, according to the company, with orders for 70 aircraft from 40 buyers spread around 18 nations.

Even without either tiltrotor program making its marks as previously expected, interest in the technology continues to grow, spawning yet another aircraft built around the idea of a propjet-fast aircraft that can operate from helicopter-size sites. The latest permutation planned is the HV-911 Eagle Eye, an unmanned aerial vehicle recently selected by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Eagle Eye was chosen to be a part of the USCG's Deepwater integrated homeland defense system, a program geared toward modernizing the service's coastal-security hardware by replacing aging cutters and aircraft while upgrading and improving command, control and logistics systems. Powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada 200-55 turboshaft engine, the HV-911 is expected to fly at speeds up to 200 knots carrying payloads as high as 200 pounds on missions as long as six hours.

Eurocopter, Sikorsky, Give Heli-Expo 2003 The Newest Models

EC145, S-92 represent the latest in helicopter technology

Eurocopter EC145 In Flight
Eurocopter EC145
Sikorsky S-92 Awaits Visitors
Sikorsky S-92
Aviation trade shows feed on the new-and-improved, but this year's convention of the Helicopter Association International didn't bring any breakthrough announcements of new models. But Heli-Expo 2003 did bring the two newest ships to win their wings, so to speak, and enter the operating fleet.

From Eurocopter the thrill of victory came from the appearance of the new EC145 for which the company recently won certification. With its large cabin, wide clamshell doors aft and twin-engine power, the futuristic EC 145 is expected to find much of its business with aeromedical operators, with sales to executive and utility operators also expected to make strong showings.

From Sikorsky it was the recent certification and first sales of the brawny S-92 that generated some buzz. A medium-lift ship, this twin-engine machine looks substantial beyond its numbers, with a huge cabin suitable for a variety of missions. The S-92 holds potential in the military and utility markets.


Light Makin' Right: Robinson Starts 2003 With Record Sales

115 orders logged, with 52 in one week and five at Heli-Expo alone

Raven II on Display
Robinson R44 Raven II
The year 2002 was not all that Frank Robinson expected for his company, Robinson Helicopters. "We took some delays in the certification of the (R44) Raven II that cut into our deliveries," the king of light-piston helicopters said at a Heli-Expo briefing on Sunday. "But we're rebounding toward one of our best years ever -- largely because the Raven II is selling far better than expected to buyers outside the market for which we built it."

Rebound? In the view of some, what Robinson Helicopters is experiencing goes well beyond that description.

Through the second day of Heli-Expo 2003, Robinson Helicopters had logged 115 orders since Jan. 1 of this year. One week of January alone accounted for a record-breaking 52 orders, the majority of them the newly upgraded version of the four-place R44.

By comparison, Robinson said, the company saw 2002 sales slide by 20 percent to 255 ships -- 148 R44s and 107 R22s -- with a resulting revenue decline of 10 percent. As of Heli-Expo, Robinson held a backlog of 50 R22 Betas and 130 Ravens -- 90 Raven II models, 30 Raven I models. And the surprise of the pack, according to Robinson, is the popularity of the Raven II.

A fuel-injected upgrade of the R44 Raven, the Raven II came about to answer the needs of operators flying in hot-and-high environments by adapting the Textron Lycoming IO-540 engine derated to 245 horsepower from its typical 300 horsepower output. What surprised Robinson was the strength of sales to operators flying from lower-elevation fields, likely, he said, the result of the Raven II's 3- to 4-knot speed advantage and a payload increase of around 40 pounds.

Robinson plans to handle the increased popularity of the Raven by hiring about 50 new workers to increase production by four units a week to 11 ships. The company also recently broke ground on a new factory building that nearly doubles factory space to almost a half-million square feet. "We plan to add new CNC machining stations and improve our production."

And the company also plans to develop a third model -- as soon, that is, as Robinson identifies the market, decides on an engine type and a seating capacity.

Give 'N Take: Eurocopter Plans Increased U.S. Operations

But Mississippi will gain the jobs -- not the current Texas plant

Eurocopter expects to expand its AStar helicopter assembly, completions and component-manufacturing capabilities by year's end, but the growth won't be occurring at the company's long-established facility in Grand Prairie, Texas. Company executives confirmed plans to establish the added capabilities at a new plant in Columbus, Miss., with the plant planned to open by the end of 2003.

Already the dominant supplier of civil turbine-powered helicopters in the U.S., Eurocopter decided to expand its presence in the States in an effort to improve its prospects for sales to the U.S. military. Last year the company delivered 71 of the 149 civil turbine helicopters sold to U.S. operators, about 49 percent of the total sales. Conversely, U.S. helicopter manufacturers currently hold a lock on turbine helicopter sales to America's military services.

Previous reports of Eurocopter's plans cited poor political support from Texas officials as the primary impetus for the selection of Mississippi as home to the new plant. But company officials said that financial considerations drove the decision, while acknowledging a political element to the decision-making process.

For now, at least, Eurocopter plans to retain its Texas operation and the 300 workers employed there. Texas officials, according to the company, made clear their desire to retain Eurocopter's presence in the state and reaffirmed their plans to work with Eurocopter to keep that plant open.

Enstrom En Route To Modernization Thanks To New Management

2003 production will increase by nearly a factor of four from 2002

Enstrom Display
Enstrom Display
Enstrom Helicopter Corp. gained a new president last summer and after less than a year on the job the company is well into a business rebound that has already moved up production goals by a factor of three -- with a four-factor increase both a goal and a likely outcome. "We've been busy improving production, improving processes and improving the image of a company that was building a good, solid product," explained fledgling president Steve Daniels.

After building only six helicopters in 2002, Enstrom's production run has been improved to 21 for this year on the basis of advance sales. "Every time we sell out half our production we raise the target," Daniels explained. "If we continue as planned, we should be in line to make 30 helicopters in 2004."

Daniels came to Enstrom from Kaman Corp., the manufacturer of the unique K-Max utility helicopter. "When I came here (to Enstrom) I found a company that turned out a solid product but itself had a lousy image with its customers," Daniels explained. "We started working on treating the customers the way they wanted to be treated and let them know they were important to us. And we went after improving how we build our products."

Along with efforts to reduce waste, cut rework and modernize tooling and processes on the production line, the new Enstrom president also started rebuilding the company's dormant dealer network. "We've hired new people into new positions in an effort to improve every aspect of our operation and we think all this effort is starting to pay off," Daniels said. Efforts at building more international sales are ongoing with new contacts established in China and Russia.

That payoff includes lower production costs and, of course, those improved sales. Coming into Heli-Expo 2003, Enstrom had landed advance sales of 12 helicopters with expectations of more sales realized at the show with three additional orders. "We're making progress and we've got plans to make more through product improvements and improvements in our relationships with our customers and dealers," Daniels noted. "And we're not done yet."

Sikorsky Upgrading S-76 With More Power, Quiet Tail Rotor

Rotor de-ice ability also coming, an advance from the S-92

Sikorsky S-92 on Approach
Sikorsky S-92
More horsepower and more capability are coming to the Sikorsky S-76 line thanks to a series of upgrades planned that will result in a new model designation. And all of the improvements will be available to existing S-76C+, with the S-76A and S-76B eligible for only some of the upgrades, the company announced at Heli-Expo 2003. More than 530 S-76 helicopters are flying with 192 operators in 44 countries.

Top among the planned improvements are Turbomeca's Arriel 2S2 engines, which provide 6 percent more power than the Arriel 2S1 powerplants that power the S-76C+. Another advance planned is the use of rotor blades that incorporate deicing capability, an adaptation from the recently certificated S-92. Sikorsky also plans to adapt its a new Quiet Tail Rotor technology and a proprietary gearbox that also produces less noise.


Icarus Instruments Delivering Position-Reporting Datalink System

Iridium-based service proven in French pilot's real-world crisis

Well-known within both general-aviation and commercial-aviation circles for its innovative specialty displays and air-date instruments, Icarus Instruments last month began deliveries of a new datalink system designed to provide tracking and communications capabilities between an aircraft and folks on the ground. Introduced at Heli-Expo 2003, Icarus' Sky Connect Tracker system uses the Iridium global satellite phone network to provide speed, altitude, course and position data to a PC running Flight Explorer Pro aircraft situational display software.

The system can also provide global satellite phone coverage through the same Iridium system, explained Icarus President Steve Silverman. Already approved for a number of installations, the Tracker system passed its first real-world test in November when French pilot Henri Chorosz began accumulating ice on his Glasair II during a leg of an around-the-world flight over the southern extremes of the Indian Ocean.

From his Glasair, Chorosz was able to use the system to page Silverman as the Icarus executive was driving near his home in Takoma Park, Md. When Silverman called Chorosz back over the Iridium system, the French pilot explained his plight; with a glance at the Flight Explorer Pro data on his office computer, Silverman could see the severity of Chorosz's situation. "I could see that he had dropped from 15,000 feet to just 300 feet off the ocean -- in the dark," Silverman recounted.

Chorosz told Silverman he was headed to remote Marion Island -- some six hours away -- after finding an ICAO designator for the island. After a couple more calls, Silverman learned that the ICAO code identified not a runway but a weather station. A call to the station confirmed that the island lacked an airport. But Chorosz also lacked another option for a safe landfall and he repeated his intentions to land on the island.

After numerous phone calls, Silverman was able to relay Chorosz's situation and the weather station personnel offered to locate the most suitable terrain on the volcanic island and lay out an array of burning flares to identify the makeshift runway. Chorosz made the island and survived a landing on a bog that flipped his plane upside down. "Without this system no one would have known Henri had gone down, let alone where to look for him," Silverman related.

Icarus' new system is available as a stand-alone $7,500 system that also supports two-way text messaging. Operators may also opt to add the Tracker function to one of several Flight Connect global satellite phone systems the company offers.

Reversal Of Fortunes: MD Helicopters' Sales Rebounding

60 percent drop over three years ends with trebling of 2003 sales

MD902 on Display

MD902 - Dutch National Police

MD Helicopters Inc. appears to have ended a serious sales slump with plans to deliver 44 new helicopters in 2003 -- nearly triple the 15 delivered last year. And 2002 was the worst yet since 1999 when the company was acquired by the Dutch company RDM Holdings.

After delivering 37 ships that year, the company's deliveries edged up about 11 percent to 41 -- and then the bottom started falling out of the company's sales. In 2001, for example, deliveries fell back by about one-third to 28 before falling again by nearly half again to the 15 of 2002.

And the reason for this rebound? Solutions to problems that plagued program advances in the prior years. For example, the company finally solved engineering problems that held back certification of MD902 variants for the Dutch National Police and the German state police. Export financing problems for an order of MD 600Ns for the Turkish national police prevented deliveries of those aircraft -- but now that problem is behind the Mesa, Ariz., company.

"Our non-delivery of these helicopters means opportunities this year," said Henk Schaeken, MD Helicopters' chairman and CEO. With the tough engineering and certification work done for the two MD 902 police-version customers, the first of those ships are nearing delivery. The Dutch ordered a total of eight MD 902s in the special configuration planned and STC'd by the FAA, while the German government ordered five. And with orders already in hand for 35 of this year's allocation of 44, the 2003 production plans are a good fit with the company's capabilities and needs, according to company executives.

Honeywell Debuts New KMD 250 Compact Color MFD

New unit provides better display, more features than other KMDs

Honeywell KMD Displays
Honeywell KMD 250
Honeywell displayed a prototype of the new KMD 250 multifunction display first announced last fall and for pilots of helicopters and light fixed-wing aircraft the unit offers functionality beyond that found in the company's existing displays -- along with a color display that greatly exceeds the quality found in either the KMD 550 or KMD 850 MFDs.

Those new features include a new internal terrain-elevation database that drives a new relative-altitude function that colors terrain according to the aircraft's relative height above the ground. Although the unit will not provide audible terrain warnings, the visual cues are graphic enough to show the pilot that the aircraft is near or below surrounding terrain.

Honeywell engineers incorporated the new features into a unit that retains all the datalink capabilities of the larger displays, including the ability to provide live text and graphic weather reports through the Flight Information Service and real-time depiction of nearby traffic through a Mode S datalink transponder and the Traffic Information System.

The Honeywell KT-73 Mode S datalink transponder that can supply TIS input is awaiting its TSO papers and shipments should be starting within the next few weeks, company officials told AVweb. The KMD 250 is approaching final configuration and FAA approval is expected in time for the company to begin shipping units by the time the EAA Sun 'n Fun Fly-In opens on April 2. Although the final price has not yet been set, the company is targeting a tab under $4,000 for the KMD 250.

Whelan Introduces New LED Aircraft Beacon & Position Lights

Advance offers brighter illumination, longer life, lower current needs

Whelen LED Lights
Whelen LED Aircraft Lights
Aircraft lighting specialists at Whelan had been so busy preparing a new line of products that the main draw of their display had not yet been announced when the lights went on at Heli-Expo 2003: a new generation of aircraft lights using LED technology.

The company produces versions to replace flashers and beacons that provide increased illumination compared to the units they are designed to replace. The same goes for the new LED aircraft position lights the company also introduced at the HAI convention.

In addition to their brighter light output, these LED units offer superior durability and lower current demands compared to conventional incandescent units. Currently available in 24-volt versions only, the new LED lights will be offered for 14-volt systems later in the year, according to the company.