American Eurocopter hosted its Oil and Gas symposium in Lafayette, La. on May 29 to an audience of some 60 representatives from the major helicopter operators around the Gulf of Mexico. Among those in attendance were representatives of Bristow, Chevron, Era Helicopters, ExxonMobil, PHI, Shell and some smaller companies such as Westlake and Island Operating Company. In addition to Eurocopter’s representatives providing an update about the manufactures helicopter lines, Ben Broussard, director of marketing for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, spoke about the oil and gas reserves in the state of Louisiana, including the offshore locations. Broussard also touched on the slow permitting process that has hindered the development of most of the available deep and shallow water offshore leases.
He stated that only two to three percent of these leases are being developed, even though the drilling operators have complied with the new government safety standards. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, which resulted in America’s worst ocean oil spill, was an obvious setback and has fueled more stringent deep water drilling safety regulations. Only 16 deep water and 26 shallow water permits have been issued in 2013. Broussard stated that there is an estimated 480 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 101 billion barrels of oil, untapped, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Anthony DiNota, vice president of commercial sales, marketing and customer support for American Eurocopter. Photo by Pat Gray
Eurocopter engineers explained the gearbox problems and fixes for the EC225. Since the two precautionary landings in the North Sea it has been determined that the bevel gear vertical shaft that transmits power to the main rotor separated in the lower half of the bevel gear. The three contributing causes were: active corrosion, residual stress and stress hot spots. The active corrosion was from pitting on the gear surfaces that was induced by environmental conditions. The welding process contributed to residual stress and the hot spot stress was related to the geometry of the case.
According to Eurocopter, there are 720 EC225s flying, mostly in the military and some civil, such as Vietnam, China and Norway. They have continued to fly since the incidents and have amassed more than 20,000 flight hours without a problem using the same gear shaft that failed.
Eurocopter is trying to get the American and European aircraft back in the air through inspection procedures such as borescope inspections, shaft cleaning, and replacing eddy current testing with ultrasound. The final fix will be a newly designed replacement shaft that should be ready sometime in 2014.
The company also gave a presentation on the EC145 T2. There’s no doubt that the new configuration is aimed at the offshore market – more powerful dual FADEC engines, a new composite-blade Fenestron tail rotor, a 300-nm range with full fuel and passengers (up to six), and a four-axis autopilot.
Eurocopter expects EASA certification in early 2014 and first deliveries around that same time frame. A unique feature on this aircraft is a rotor featuring automatic variable rotor speed accomplished by a leaf spring arrangement within the rotor head. This aids in reducing noise and vibration.
Judging by the response from the attendees, the symposium was a success. Operators were given the chance to ask several questions, and the presenters gave direct responses.
Related: Offshore News