The spectre of depressed oil-and-gas and natural resources markets hung over an unusually cold Helicopter Association International (HAI) Heli-Expo in Louisville, Ky., in early March, as support and service offerings and other efforts to reduce operating costs dominated the news in the absence of any major product unveilings.
The rotorcraft industry’s largest annual show, which is traditionally held in the warmer climes of cities much further south (and with easier access), was making its first appearance in Louisville—and the choice of location was one of the main talking points at the show. However, while final official attendance and exhibitor numbers were not available to the media as Skies went to press, HAI said pre-show figures were tracking ahead of the previous year’s edition in Orlando, Fla., and predicted about 700 exhibitors, 20,000 attendees, and over 60 helicopters on display.
In addition to the trade show itself, which covered nearly one million square feet of the Kentucky Exposition Center, attendees had the opportunity to attend more than 100 educational sessions, including instructional courses, seminars, technical briefings, workshops and forums.
While there were no major new product unveilings, there were updates on several important programs that are currently in the flight testing phase, including Bell Helicopter’s 505 Jet Ranger X and 525 Relentless, Airbus Helicopters’ H160, and Marenco Swisshelicopter’s SKYe SH09.
What was the SW-4 is now the AW009, currently undergoing FAA certification.
Perhaps the most notable announcement for operators in North America was that Finmeccanica (formerly known as AgustaWestland) is beginning the certification process for the light single-engine PZL SW-4 with the Federal Aviation Administration, and will be rebranding the aircraft as the AW009.
The certification process for the 1.8-tonne (4,000-pound) AW009 will be undertaken in partnership with Huntsville, Ala.-based AAL USA, which will then serve as the aircraft’s distributor in the U.S. Finmeccanica also revealed that the AW009 will receive a new Genesys Aerosystems glass cockpit, an optional engine upgrade from the Rolls-Royce M250-C20R to the -C30P variant, a mass vibration absorber, and hydraulic system improvements. Certification is targeted for June 2016.
Also appearing at Finmeccanica’s booth was the AW109 Trekker—an upgrade that includes a Genesys glass cockpit and skids—which completed its first flight back at the manufacturer’s facility in Cascina Costa, Italy, during the show.
The Bell 505 attracted much attention at Heli-Expo.
Bell Helicopter’s booth included two flight test vehicles (a 505 and 525), and a mock-up of its military tiltrotor, the V-280 Valor. As the show began, Bell announced an agreement with Guangxi Diwang Group for 10 525s to be used for tourism and search and rescue missions, but its major news was undoubtedly the launch of its new “Customer Advantage Plans”—aftermarket service plans that are designed to offer customers “holistic coverage solutions” for their daily operations.
Available in two forms, Standard and Premier, the plans provide complete direct maintenance cost protection for a fixed cost per flight hour, and were developed to help customers predict and stabilize maintenance costs over time.
Bell Helicopter president and CEO Mitch Snyder also moved to assuage fears for the future of the company’s facility in Mirabel, Que., telling journalists in a press conference ahead of the show that Bell was “definitely committed to Canada”—and would eventually have a new product line at the plant.
Following the show, the H215 began a demo tour of the United States, showcasing its capabilities to utility and firefighting agencies.
Airbus Helicopters used the show as a launching point for the commercialization of its new 5.5- to 6-tonne H160, as it began accepting letters of intent for the aircraft, which has now accrued more than 100 flight hours through its two prototypes. Also at Airbus Helicopters’ booth was the H215 (the utility variant of its Super Puma family of aircraft), which was beginning a demonstration tour of the U.S. following the show. During the tour, it will target firefighting agency and State Department contracts. The manufacturer also displayed the first utility-configured H130, which will be operated by Fort McMurray, Alta.-based Phoenix Heli-Flight.
Sikorsky had one of Era Helicopters’ S-92s at its booth, but its major announcement was the introduction of a program, in tandem with Turbomeca, to enable operators to upgrade an S-76C+ to an S-76C++.
Finally, MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton revealed plans for an evolution of the MD 902, to be called the MD 969, and a new military single-engine attack helicopter, currently labeled the MD 6XX.
Heli-Expo 2017 will be held in Dallas, Texas, from March 7 to 9.