The European Commission wants Italy to stop awarding helicopter contracts without competition to Agusta. The administrative arm of the 15-nation European Union said on February 4 that it will send a “reasoned opinion” to Italy asking that nation to end the practice. Such opinions are the second step in procedures laid out by the European Community Treaty for enforcing “open market” policies among the Union’s member nations. If the commission is not satisfied with Italy’s response, it could take the matter to the EU’s Court of Justice. The commission’s statement said that Italy “has for a long time followed a practice of awarding to an Italian manufacturer, directly and without any kind of competition, contracts for helicopters to be used by certain public services.” While the commission did not name the manufacturer, Agusta is the company that has won aircraft acquisition contracts from the agencies mentioned–the forestry department, financial police, fire services, police and security forces, coast guard, and the civil defense department. The practice is contrary to an EU directive calling for public bidding of such contracts and the commission said “Italy has in no way shown” that the practice is justified by special security needs. The commission said it already has referred Italy to the Court of Justice in connection with a forestry department contract to purchase helicopters “without any form of competition.”
European regulators plan to improve upon current regulations aimed at ensuring that night landings on offshore helidecks are as safe as possible, but at least one, the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority, is urging operators of those helidecks to make improvements now. Recent research has found that several steps can help reduce problems for pilots operating to and from helidecks on offshore platforms at night. “The results of the research have been so impressive,” the CAA said, that it, “in conjunction with other major authorities, has submitted a proposal to the International Civil Aviation Organization” to amend current worldwide standards and recommended practices for helideck and heliport lighting. The CAA has issued interim guidance encouraging oil rig and ship operators to upgrade their helideck lighting systems as soon as possible. Some of theï¿½ changes being sought? Switch the color of perimeter lighting from yellow to green and, where practical, replace deck-level floodlighting with a high-mounted system placed in a safe area on the helideck’s inboard side. “These modifications will make it easier for the pilot to locate the helideck amongst the general oil rig lighting,” the CAA said, “and significantly reduce the glare that can occur with existing floodlighting systems.” It also suggests adding a circle of yellow lighting around the yellow painted aiming circle and a lit, green “H” heliport identification marking in the aiming circle’s center. “This removes the ‘black hole’ effect caused by inadequate floodlighting,” the CAA said, “and makes it simpler for the pilot to judge and control the flight path of the helicopter during approach and landing. The agency said it and regulators in other European nations with offshore operations plan to include such changes in the next update of formal guidance documents for offshore helicopter landing areas. This is most likely to take place in 2004.
The CAA performed the research, with support from QinetiQ, Ltd, at the NAM K14 platform in the Dutch Sector of the North Sea and Longside Airfield near Aberdeen. Further work is being undertaken at Norwich International Airport.
Eurocopter reported 2003 turnover of 2.61 billion euros ($3.26 billion), up 4 percent from 2002 despite the decline in the U.S. dollar’s value. The company said it delivered 297 new helicopters worth $936 million and booked orders for 293 new and 49 used helicopters worth $1.12 billion (not including the 24 Tigers ordered by Spain, for which a contract has not yet been signed). The balance of 2003 sales came from customer service ($770 million) and other areas ($16 million) while the year-end backlog totaled about $68 billion. On the basis of those figures, Eurocopter claims 45 percent by number of helicopters (and 25 percent by value) of the world’s “accessible” market, CEO Fabrice Brï¿½gier said Jan. 21, “allowing the company to maintain its position as world leader.” He said sales are expected to grow about 10 percent this year, as deliveries begin of Tiger attack helicopters to Australia, France, Germany and Spain. Eurocopter does not break out profits, which are consolidated within EADS, but Brï¿½gier said they rose 20 percent in 2003 and “we are expecting about the same growth rate this year.”
Enstrom Helicopter virtually doubled its production during 2003, producing 17 helicopters compared to nine in 2002. It also forecast producing 32 helicopters during 2004 and said it is sold out through the third quarter.ï¿½ Jerry Mullins, who took over as president of Enstrom from Peter Parsinen in January, said the transition of leadership has been smooth and the company is still focused on its original goals. “One of those goals was nearly doubling our production,” he said. “It’s a nice way to start my new job.” A key impetus for the 2003 figures was last July’s order from the Indonesian National Police for 18 480B helicopters. Delivery is scheduled through mid-2004. Enstrom also reported that certificated maximum altitude for takeoff and landings for the 480B at its gross weight of 3,000 lb. has been increased from 2,100 ft. to 10,000 ft.
Robinson Helicopter produced 422 new helicopters last year, which it said is a company record. The total included 219 R44 Raven IIs, 75 R44 Raven Is and 128 R22s. It attributed increased sales to improvements in the U.S. economy, a weakened U.S. dollar that stimulated export sales, and “an excellent market reception for the higher performance Raven II.” The company has also sold out its R22 and R44 production for the first half of this year and increased its employment by 300 employees to a total of 950. It expects to exceed 1,000 employees during 2004. It has a new building under construction that will nearly double the manufacturing floor space.
Rolls-Royce has expanded its network of centers authorized to service the Model 250 worldwide. The company said 20 industry-leading support specialists will form the heart of the service network, which replaces the Model 250 Authorized Maintenance Center network. The new network includes three company-owned Rolls-Royce Service Centers, 13 independent Authorized Maintenance Centers, and four Authorized Military Overhaul Facilities. The Rolls-owned facilities are Rolls-Royce Brasil in Sï¿½o Paulo, Brazil; Rolls-Royce Engine Services Limitada Inc., in Pampanga, the Philippines, and Rolls-Royce Engine Services—Oakland Inc. in Oakland, California. The independent service centers include ACRO Aerospace, Inc. in Richmond, British Columbia; Aeromaritime Mediterranean in Malta; Aeromaritime America, in Mesa, Arizona; Aviation Turbine Overhaul Pty. Ltd., in Mentone, Australia; H+S Aviation, in Portsmouth, United Kingdom; Industria de Turbo Propulsores, S.A., in Ajalvir, Spain; and Keystone Engine Services, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The independents also include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, in Aichi-Ken, Japan; National Airways Corporation Pty. Ltd., at Rand Airport, South Africa; Premier Turbines, in Neosho, Missouri; Samsung Techwin Co., Ltd., in Changwon City, South Korea; Standard Aero Limited, in Winnipeg, Canada, and Standard Aero Asia in Singapore. The independent group supporting military operators includes: Agusta, S.p.A., Frosinone, Italy; Air Asia Company Ltd., Taiwan; Hellenic Aerospace Industry, Schimatari, Greece, and MTU Aero Engines, Munich, Germany. Service center network memberships are six-year terms that started in January 2004, Rolls-Royce said, adding that it will complement that network with an updated one of facilities authorized to do repair and overhaul of Model 250 modules.
EXTEX, a Gilbert, Arizona-based PMA manufacturer of parts for rotorcraft turbine engines and auxiliary power units, has doubled to 12 the number of members in its ChoiceAlliance distributor network. The six new members are Airborne Engines and Magellan Aero Tech in British Columbia; Essential Turbines in Quebec; Magellan (ATS) in Glendale, Arizona.; Southern Rotorcraft USA in Rockwall, Texas, and Asia Pacific Aerospace in Queensland, Australia. Original ChoiceAlliance members are: Airwork (NZ) Ltd. in New Zealand; Heli-Mart, Inc. in Costa Mesa, Calif.; Precision Air-Power in Woods Cross, Utah; Helipower Service in Santa Paula, Calif.; H.E.R.O.S. in Glendale, Calif.; and Superior Air Parts Pty Ltd. in New Zealand. EXTEX also said it had cut prices on its products by two to 10 percent.
Wildcat Helicopters, Inc., of Kelowna, British Columbia, and the airframe repair and overhaul firm Accurate Structure, Ltd., also of Kelowna, have set up a joint venture to offer what the companies say is cost-effective repair and overhaul of helicopter airframes, sub-assemblies, and related structures worldwide.ï¿½ Wildcat Helicopters, a charter operator and approved maintenance organization, is expanding its existing third-party maintenance capabilities by offering maintenance contracts, maintenance management, major structural repairs, painting and the sale of parts. The team said it is currently completing the second 3,000-hr. major overhaul of a Bell 212 in as many years.
Top officials in California’s San Diego County were to vote Feb. 10 on whether to allocate $3.5 million to purchase a helicopter to be owned by the county. The vote comes after a study funded by the city of San Diego concluded that the region needs three full-time firefighting helicopters. Local leaders were embarrassed in October 2003 when massive wildfires broke out less than a week after the city’s lease expired on a firefighting helicopter. The city renewed the lease after the fires broke out. Those fires went on to destroy thousands of homes and businesses. The city commissioned Conklin & de Decker, of Arlington, Texas, to do the study after the fires. That firm recommended having three helicopters available for aerial firefighting around the clock.
Breeze-Eastern will sponsor a mini-conference on hoist operations at Heli-Expo 2004 in Las Vegas this month. The company has sponsored the conference for the past nine years. The conference will be held at 8 a.m. on March 16 in the Las Vegas Convention Center. The program will include one presentation entitled, “Mission Accomplished—Lessons Learned,” by Mike Dubron of the Los Angeles, California County Fire Department, and another, “Helicopter Air Rescue—Lessons Learned,” by Ken Phillips, search-and-rescue coordinator for Grand Canyon National Park. Tom McLoughlin, vice president of engineering at Breeze-Eastern, also will talk about hoist technology.
The U.S. Army’s proposed budget for Fiscal 2005 does not fund rotorcraft countermeasure systems, even though such systems are now among the service’s most urgent operational requirements. The need was made apparent by attacks against aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, said Maj. Gen. Lynn Hartsell, the Army’s budget director, but that was after the Fiscal ’05 budget had been drafted. “It is not in this budget right now.” Since major combat in Iraq ended May 1, 2003, 10 Army helicopters have been shot down there. Sixteen have been lost in Afghanistan. Nearly 150 U.S. servicemen have died as a result. Hartsell estimated new countermeasure systems would cost the Army $78 million in Fiscal ‘04 and $150 million in Fiscal ‘05. Just $28 million has been earmarked for such systems this year. Getting the balance this year and the $150 million for Fiscal ’05 would require diverting funds from other programs or obtaining supplemental appropriations, he said. Countermeasures have proven they can neutralize the threat of shoulder-fired missiles. Systems on aircraft of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment have stymied at least 18 missile attacks. “That’s 18 aircraft that didn’t get shot down,” the unit’s commander, Col. Andrew Milani, told a recent Assn. of the United States Army conference. All Army aircraft have countermeasures, but the 160th uses the most technologically advanced, such as the AN/AAR-47 electro-optic missile warning and laser system. The Special Forces test new gear to see how well it might work for the rest of the Army. Their missions also require unique technology, service officials said. A “mismatch” between requirements and funding is one reason for the lack of countermeasures funding, said Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, director of the Army’s Objective Force Task Force. The Army budget caps aviation at roughly $3.3 billion, he said, yet the service is demanding more and more of its aviation forces. Countermeasures are so important they necessitate full funding, Milani said. “What a travesty it is that we haven’t proliferated these systems to the rest of the Army,” he added. “We need to do that.”
The proposed budget would fully fund Flight School XXI for the first time this year, at $614 million. The program had unfunded requirements this year and last, but “we finally got this thing beat,” Hartsell said. The funding will pay for better training for 800 aviators next year. Starting in Fiscal ‘06, the program will train 1,200 pilots a year for roughly $600 million.
Many U.S. pilots from civilian and public-service helicopter operations are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among them is Larry Murphy, a 10-year veteran of Keystone Helicopter’s EMS unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania. On active duty now with Company G, 104th Aviation Regiment, Murphy recently put his skills to the test by setting his CH-47’s tail on a rooftop to pick up Aghanis in custody. Those persons had been detained during Operation Mountain Resolve in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province. Murphy is one of nine Keystone employees currently on active duty.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s fleet of 95 HH-65 Dolphins need immediate engine and flight control upgrades to address severe and dangerous power losses, according to the service’s chief of staff, Vice Adm. Thad Allen. A growing number of power losses involving Honeywell LTS-101 engines “have placed the Coast Guard in a crisis situation, requiring we find an immediate solution,” Allen said. The service had 35 loss-of-power incidents in the first quarter of Fiscal 2004, which ended Dec. 31, 2003, versus 32 for all of Fiscal ’03, he said, and only 32 for all of the preceding three years. “The problem has steadily worsened,” Allen said, in part because the Aerospatiale aircraft, like most rotorcraft, have steadily gotten heavier over time as new systems and gear have been added. An HH-65 engine upgrade, long planned as part of the Coast Guard’s Deepwater modernization, is scheduled to begin this year and be completed in Fiscal ’06. But Allen said this must be accelerated to address the crisis, which endangers crews and missions. Flight restrictions minimize the risk to Coast Guard personnel, but they do not address the fundamental problem, he noted. The HH-65 has been a workhorse, operating from land bases, cutters and destroyers. Last year, crews flew them on 7,640 hr. of search-and-rescue missions and saved 512 lives. They flew another 8,037 hr. on law enforcement, security, and maritime surveillance missions.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s MH-68A counter-narcotics patrol helicopter, recently deployed to perform patrols over the ports of New York and Valdez, Alaska. The Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Sqdn., known as Hitron, is based at Jacksonville, Florida, but periodically deploys to other areas for specific missions. The aircraft flew tanker escort and port overflights in Alaska for the New Year’s holiday, when the U.S. national terrorism alert level had been raised to high. The aircraft, armed versions of the A109 Power, are supported under a lease agreement by AgustaWestland. They were transported to Valdez on a C-130. On Dec. 30, the Coast Guard self-deployed a single MH-68A to New York. A second followed on Jan. 2. The aircraft spent the following week assigned to deter and respond to potential terrorist attacks.
NH Industries’ NH90 will soon become the first helicopter type to fly exclusively with a fly-by-wire flight control system, company officials said. NH90 prototype aircraft number three (PT3) made its first flight with a fly-by-wire (FBW) system in December. That inaugural flight lasted 50 minutes and it covered the entire flight envelope. However, because the system is still in development, the helicopter was fitted with FBW controls in just the pilot’s cockpit. As a safety precaution, mechanical backup controls were installed in the copilot’s cockpit. NH Industries now is working on a second prototype, PT4, that will have the full FBW configuration in both cockpits. The system previously had been validated on Eurocopter’s Dauphin high-speed demonstrator, company officials said. Eurocopter is developing the FBW technology with the assistance of AgustaWestland, the Netherlands’ Stork Group, and Portugal’s OGMA. The four companies compose NH Industries. Eurocopter’s FBW system employs a quadruplex architecture to ensure redundancy and protect against electromagnetic radiation. Indeed, the system utilizes two digital computers and two analog computers, all of which are physically separated and which operate independently of each other. The loss of any one system, therefore, will not compromise the operational effectiveness of the overall flight control system, company officials said. Eurocopter’s FBW system also has built-in growth potential. New mission tasks and more advanced piloting techniques can be introduced with new computer software, they added.
NH Industries has picked a team of CAE and Thales Training & Simulation to design and produce a range of NH90 helicopter training systems throughout Europe under a roughly 400-million-euro ($504-million) contract. The products are to include full-flight and fixed-base simulators as well as rear-crew, tactical-procedures, cockpit-procedures, and virtual maintenance trainers. The contract, to be finalized within nine months, will be let as part of the NH90 training system for the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA) and the Nordic Standard Helicopter Program. NAHEMA represents Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal. The Nordic program includes Norway, Sweden, and Finland. All eight countries are procuring NH90 variants. The CAE-Thales team will set up a joint venture as prime contractor to fulfill the contract. “The NH90 is the largest helicopter program ever launched in Europe,” said Donald W. Campbell, group president, military simulation and training, CAE. “There is a significant and long-term training requirement for the defense forces who will operate this new aircraft.”
Separately, CAE Aircrew Training Services has won a $6.84-million contract from the British government to upgrade hardware and software for the Chinook and Merlin full-flight simulators at the Medium Support Helicopter Training Facility at RAF Benson in the United Kingdom, as well as computer-based training systems and courseware there. CAE owns and operates the facility under a private-finance initiative contract with the U.K. Ministry of Defence to provide training for both the RAF and third-party operators of the AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin, Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Eurocopter Pumas.
The competition between American and European helicopter manufacturers is a big topic of discussion within the industry. Less noted is the competition within Europe between Eurocopter and AgustaWestland. That competition heated up recently when AgustaWestland said it had signed a contract with the French Ministry of Defense for vendor support services on the French navy’s Mk.4 Lynx rotorcraft. The contract took effect in January and provides for repair and overhaul of the Mk.4’s transmission and rotor system. AgustaWestland makes the Lynx, but Eurocopter previously had done repair work on the navy aircraft. According to AgustaWestland’s customer support director, Bert Brookes, the agreement will result in “greater operational availability of the French navy’s Lynx fleet, just as similar agreements have done with other Lynx operators.” The French navy took delivery of 31 Lynx helicopters between 1977 and 1983. The Lynx is expected to remain in service with the French navy until 2018, when it is slated to be replaced by the NH90.
Hindustan Aeronautics, Ltd. (HAL) has selected the Lord Corp. Active Vibration Control System for its Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter. Lord already serves as sole provider of elastomeric bearings for the main and tail rotor systems and bearings for the pylon isolation system, as well as isolators for the instrument panel. The vibration control system uses active frahms to reduce fuselage vibrations. Using sensors to monitor vibration frequencies from the main rotor and other dynamic components, the system controller processes input signals and then outputs opposite frequencies to counter them. The technology is capable of handling two to four active frahms through the turning of a rotary switch without affecting the built-in diagnostics. This allows the Dhruv to respond to a variety of factors, depending on the mission. The Dhruv is a high-altitude, twin-engine helicopter designed to be capable of flying over the Himalayas and Mount Everest.