As Leonardo draws on the benefits of its corporate realignment and rebranding, its helicopters division is focused at Heli-Expo on highlighting new technologies that can increase utility deficiency of its customers operations.
In advance of the show, R&WI spoke with Leonardo Helicopters’ head of strategy, Roberto Garavaglia, about what the company has planned for Heli-Expo and its assessment of current markets.
What is Leonardo presenting at Heli-Expo in terms of new aircraft, technologies and new initiatives?
We’re looking forward to displaying for attendees a range of single- to twin-engine platforms covering various commercial and parapublic applications.
We’ll keep promoting our unique family concept and the commonalities shared by the AW139, AW169 and AW189 types. The AW Family introduces into the market an all-new approach to the cockpit, with custom-developed, proprietary software that combines the latest-generation avionics with exceptional external visibility.
Our innovative Obstacle Proximity Lidar Warning System is now certified for the AW139 and AW189, and will soon be available on the AW169. The system consists of three main rotorhead-mounted laser imaging detection and ranging (lidar) sensors that generate a 360-degree radial view around the aircraft and a dedicated cockpit control panel.
Dubbed OPLSTM, it ensures fast and accurate detection and tracking of short-range obstacles up to 80 feet (25 meters) away by time-of-flight measurement at different angles. Pilots can operate and monitor the system from the control panel while video and audio indications are provided on the multi-function displays (MFDs) and through aircraft’s intercommunication system (ICS).
Technology extends to our customer support offerings as well. The health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) is now a technology that comes standard on all of the AW Family machines. HUMS ensures that quality data is provided to engineers to support initiatives designed to drive down operating costs, anticipate and resolve technical issues and increase aircraft availability.
With our Skyflight Mobile tablet flight planning software now available for all AW Family helicopters, we can better use technology to support customers in their flight planning activities.
What demand are you seeing from your customers for types of avionics they want on their helicopters, both for forward fit and retrofit?
Here in the U.S., and particularly in emergency medical services (EMS) operations, a glass cockpit is now the standard among customer requirements. We’ve met this demand, and have since had great success, with the upgraded AW119Kx that now features the G1000 glass cockpit.
On the AW169, the human/machine interface essentially takes the flight management system and circuit breakers and integrates them into a touch screen capability. This allows operators and pilots to use the interface for a variety of tasks, including controlling the air conditioning, turning on external lights and even runing through their checklist.
As far as avionics retrofits, these are customer-specific and designed to comply with any new regulations that may arise in a specific geography or market segment.
More generally, I expect that the trend will continue for system integration in avionics to let flight crews interact with one integrated system to perform several operations. Leonardo Helicopters is fully committed on this, as demonstrated by the current avionics suite of the family. But this topic still remains in its roadmap for further improvements.
In what regions of the world does Leonardo see the most demand for new helicopter purchases and for what purpose? Do you expect 2017 to be a strong year for new helicopter purchases?
Recently, we’ve seen strong demand from China for EMS applications. This includes the sale of 30 AW139s and AW169s in late 2016, following the sale of 25 AW119Kx helicopters in March of last year. These aircraft have paved the way for the establishment of China’s largest EMS helicopter program.
We have also seen a recent uptick in interest by U.S. customers for corporate and VIP aircraft.
Regarding our sales prospects, our Heli-Expo presence is indicative of what we expect this year, and so we have brought forth a balanced approach to our presentation, which includes solutions for offshore oil and gas operators.
We believe there are a number of opportunities across all sectors and segments, and that we have the products that can respond to their needs.
Generally speaking, we believe the civil market demand will stabilize in 2017 after a few years of a slight growth under the present general circumstances.
How is Leonardo helping customers meet the equipage requirements for ADS-B in 2020 and other mandates in the U.S.?
Many of our products have long been compliant with regulations that are anticipated in the months and years to come.
On the AW169, AW139 and AW189, ADS-B already comes standard. For our lighter aircraft, such as the AW119Kx and AW109 series, we have identified transponders that give an ADS-B signal and certified these as an option on the aircraft. Customers can specify this option during initial assembly, and it can be retrofitted to existing aircraft.
This year, EMS operators will be mandated to install radio altimeters. Many of our commercial products, including the AW169, AW139, AW189, AW109SP are certified with this equipment. On the AW119Kx, it is an option that our EMS customers have opted for in order to remain compliant. As a function of the radio altimeter, HTAWS is already integrated in the AW119Kx via the G1000 cockpit. And it’s integrated in the avionics of the AW139, AW169, and AW189. New models, including the AW109 Trekker, will also feature radio altimeters and HTAWS capabilities.