Rotors Down Under: Avalon Show Review

By By Emma Kelly, Asia and Pacific Correspondent | April 6, 2015
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While growth in the Australian helicopter market may have slowed this financial year, the sector still has encouraging growth prospects and was well represented at the Australian International Air Show, which took place at Avalon Airport, Victoria, from Feb. 24 to March 1.

The static park included AgustaWestland AW139s and the AW169, Airbus Helicopters was present with its EC120 and EC130 T2, Robinson Helicopters’ line-up was on display through local distributor Heliflite and Bell Helicopters’ Australian distributor Hawker Pacific had a Bell 407GX on display.

A number of commercial helicopters were handed over to customers at the show. Bond Helicopters Australia took delivery of its first Sikorsky S-92 as part of a four-aircraft deal. One of the helicopters was on display at the show, while a second was handed over in Brisbane. The aircraft are being put to work on oil and gas operations off the northwestern coast and north coast of Australia, said Bond Helicopters Australia managing director John Boag. The final two in the order will be delivered before the end of this year – ahead of the original schedule, he says.

Bond Helicopters Australia took delivery of its first Sikorsky S-92 at the Avalon show. Photo by Emma Kelly

Sikorsky also appointed its local subsidiary, Sikorsky Helitech, as the first Sikorsky-authorized S-92 customer support center in the world. Brisbane-based Sikorsky Helitech, which has been a Sikorsky company since 2003, already provides support in the region for the S-76 line. The S-92 fleet in the region is rapidly expanding, particularly in the oil and gas industry.

Meanwhile, AgustaWestland highlighted its strength in the local helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) market. It signed a contract for eight AW139 helicopters with Australian transportation group Toll, which will use the helicopters on the recently-won New South Wales air ambulance contract, the Helicopter Retrieval Network (HRN). Late last year, NSW selected Toll and NSW Helicopter Rescue Service (operating as the Westpac Rescue Helicopter) as preferred tenderers for the state’s new HRN, serving NSW and the Australian Capital Territory. The service will operate from 2017, with both operators using the AW139. Westpac is leasing four of the type from Lease Corporation International. Toll will receive its first helicopters later this year, with the entire fleet to be delivered by early 2016.

The 10-year HRN contract will also see Toll and AgustaWestland establish and operate the country’s first AgustaWestland-authorized training center, details of which were revealed at the show. Toll will build and operate the training center, which will be based at Sydney’s Bankstown Airport, while the center will be branded with the AgustaWestland name and will be available for AgustaWestland customers in Australia and New Zealand. Operators in the region previously had to go to the AgustaWestland training center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. AgustaWestland has 50 helicopters operating in Australia, with 20-plus on order, and is the leader in emergency medical operations in the country, it says.

Toll says the center will include a A$15 million CAE 3000 Series AW139 Level D Full-Flight Motion Simulator – one of only eight in the world – and space for additional simulators. It will also include an advanced underwater escape training facility and wet and dry winching practice towers.

Left: AgustaWestland delivered the first of six AW139s in EMS configuration to Australian Helicopters, to be operated under a 10-year contract for Ambulance Victoria. Right: CoaX Helicopters’ sports helicopter based on former military coaxial rotor technology. Photos by Emma Kelly

The center could also be upgraded to support future AgustaWestland models such as the AW169 and AW189, said David Jackson, Toll Resources and Government Logistics chief executive officer.

AgustaWestland said the new center with Toll will be a world-leading facility and is the sort of collaboration it is seeking in other parts of the world to improve the safety of helicopter operations.

AgustaWestland also handed over at the show the first of six AW139s in emergency medical services configuration to Australian Helicopters, to be operated under a 10-year contract to Ambulance Victoria. The full fleet is scheduled to be in service by early 2016.

Australian Helicopters, which is one of the country’s largest HEMS providers, currently operates two of the five helicopters used by Victoria’s air ambulance service, operating a mixed fleet, including Airbus Helicopters AS365 Dauphins and Bell 412s. Under the new contract, five AW139s will be operational, with one back-up.

CoaX Readies Sports Helicopter and UAS for Market

Small Australian helicopter developer CoaX Helicopters displayed its sports helicopter based on former military coaxial rotor technology at the show and revealed plans to lease an unmanned version for commercial unmanned aerial system (UAS) applications.

The 17-ft. sports helicopter is based on a military design from the late 1950s, but CoaX Helicopters is taking the technology into the 21st Century, said test pilot and director Richard Woodward.

The manned version is targeted at the sports recreational flying market, will have two hours endurance, provide a speed of 60 knots and will be powered by a Hirth H3502 55hp engine, with the Garmin Glass G3X cockpit as an option. The helicopter will cost between A$100,000 and A$150,000 and could be operating in the market within six to 12 months, said Woodward.

In parallel, CoaX is developing a 20-ft. unmanned version, which is aimed at commercial markets, including agriculture, surveillance and power line inspection, and would be leased to operators, said Woodward. CoaX is currently talking to autopilot manufacturers and has yet to finalize engine selection. The UAS would have four hours-plus endurance and operate up to 70 knots.

CoaX is also planning a 20-ft. manned version, pitched at commercial operations, such as cattle mustering, a market currently dominated by Robinson types. It is yet to finalize engine choice for that version, but it will have a two hour-plus endurance, with 70 knots plus.

Australia Paves the Way in Commercial UAS

Commercial applications for UAS was a topic of conversation for a number of manufacturers at the show.

Boeing is using Australia as a testbed for commercial UAS applications through Insitu Pacific, including the 14-18kg, 24 hours plus endurance ScanEagle and the larger Integrator (34kg, 24 hours endurance).

Last year, Insitu Pacific conducted a number of trials, including fire monitoring with the New South Wales and Queensland emergency and fire services and is hoping these trials will progress to a more national role in bush fire monitoring through the National Aerial Firefighting Center, with UAS able to monitor fire development 24/7, including at night. “We hope there will be a good opportunity on a national basis,” said Dale McDowall, Insitu Pacific director of business development and strategy.

Insitu has also conducted trials of its UAS in coastal surveillance and monitoring marine life, as well as fishery protection activities and environmental surveys following cyclones. It is also talking to resources companies on mapping mine sites as well as looking at opportunities in infrastructure inspection.

“2014 was the year of trials and proving concepts. In 2015 we hope to establish more regular arrangements,” he said.

Australia is leading the way in commercial use of UAS, said Andrew Duggan, Insitu Pacific managing director, with local regulator the Civil Aviation Safety Authority progressing with the regulatory framework and the country offering the right environment for civil UAS use.

Lockheed Martin also promoted the commercial use of its UAS, including the Indago quadcopter.

Earlier this year Indago was successfully used in a bush fire-monitoring trial in Western Australia in a project led by local helicopter operator Heliwest. Indago has a 45 minute endurance, a

Military hardware on display included the Australian Army’s MRH-90 multi-role helicopter. Photo by Emma Kelly

2.2km range and 11,000ft maximum altitude. During the trial, the unmanned system monitored the progress of the fire, providing streaming video via a Wi-Fi link.

Heliwest is also set to deploy the Indago in a shark spotting trial off the Australian coast, said Steve Fortson, business development manager, Lockheed Martin mission system and training.

The manufacturer is looking at increasing the endurance of Indago through smart battery technology and is also promoting its other unmanned systems, ranging from the 1.8kg, 90 minute endurance Vector Hawk up to the 4.08kg, 150 minutes endurance Desert Hawk 3, for commercial applications.

“There’s quite a few ways these unmanned systems can improve efficiencies tomorrow,” he said, pointing to applications in fire spotting, precision agriculture, wildlife and environmental monitoring, mining and resources, crime scene investigation, forensics, search and rescue and police operations. “We are finding more and more applications for unmanned systems,” he said.

Military Hardware Also on Display

Military helicopters on display at Avalon included the Australian Army’s MRH-90 and Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter, and Royal Australian Navy AS350B Squirrel, while a RAN Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawk Romeo made its debut at the show. Australia has taken delivery of four of a 24-strong order, with the type replacing S-70B Seahawk fleet.

Military helicopter news was thin on the ground, with Canberra having decided and already putting into service its future helicopter fleet. Local helicopter supplier Airbus Group Australia Pacific (formerly Australian Aerospace) was quiet at the show. The manufacturer has had a troubled relationship with the Australian Department of Defense and procurement agency Defense Materiel Organization following delays and early problems with Australia’s Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter and MRH90 (multi-role helicopter) programs, both of which appeared at the show.

Boeing Defense Australia, meanwhile, came to the show buoyed by its win, with partner Thales Australia, last year of the long-delayed Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) for the Australian Army and Navy.

HATS (Project Air 9000 Phase 7) was first announced in 2007, with aircrew training initially planned to start in 2013. The A$700 million HATS is designed to prepare Army and Navy for new-generation advanced combat helicopters, including the Tiger, Seahawk Romeo, NH Industries MRH-90 Taipan multi-role helicopter and Boeing CH-47F Chinook.

“After a number of years of pursuing [the project] we were very pleased to sign the contract last November,” said Murray Brabrook, general manager, integrated logistics at Boeing Defense Australia.

HATS, which will be based at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales, will use 15 Airbus Helicopter EC-135 twin-engine training helicopters and three full-motion Thales EC-135 flight simulators.

Boeing/Thales are responsible for designing and building the training systems and running and supporting it. “The solution will deliver high-end training with low risk,” said Brabrook.

The first EC-135 T2+ for the program made its first fight from Airbus Helicopters’ Donauworth, Germany, facility in January. The first helicopter is due in Australia “this time next year [February],” said Brabrook, with all 15 to follow over a year. Brabrook revealed, however, that the first pilots will not start training until early 2019, with the helicopters to be used to validate the system. 

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