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Helitech – Rotary Industry Looks To Future With Mix of Uncertainty and Confidence By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

CH-47F ChinooksHeld annually and alternating between Amsterdam and London, Helitech International, the largest helicopter exhibition in Europe that is dedicated to helicopter products, parts, accessories and services and that will opens its doors at the ExCel Centre in London this morning is one of the most respected rotary related events on the international calendar.

Bringing together leading global rotary industry equipment suppliers the three-day show not only feature exhibitors from 22 nations including well-known companies such as Airbus Helicopters, AgustaWestland, BAE Systems, Bell Helicopters, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and Vector Aerospace but will this year hold a Conference that will examine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) opportunities for rotorcraft businesses.

In a tough year and one that has witnessed surprising events such as Lockheed Martin agreeing to acquire S-92 and Black Hawk manufacturer Sikorsky for $9bn from United Technologies, Helitech industry participants will be looking for glimmers of hope that the industry might soon move into a more positive trend.

The global helicopter market is still expected to achieve close to 3% growth over the next ten years. Whilst this may be small in comparison to the commercial aircraft market it needs to be remembered that aside from military helicopters, rotary based equipment is somewhat sector limited to specialist areas such as offshore oil and gas exploration and production markets, aerial photography, filming and reconnaissance activity, HEMS – Helicopter Emergency Medical Services, Law Enforcement, Public Safety and VIP Transport.

For years and due to the high level of military helicopter requirement the overall rotary market has been dominated by Boeing and Sikorsky with Bell and Airbus Helicopter following on not that far behind. But the market is changing and both Airbus and AgustaWestland stand out as being the main challengers in the addressable market over the next ten years.

The Lockheed Martin deal, the biggest in the rotary industry in a generation means that the company is now the world’s biggest defense contractor and one that just got a little bit bigger. But just as the acquisition of Sikorsky is a great deal for Lockheed Martin in my view so is it also for a much troubled Sikorsky as well. One thing is pretty certain, the vast Bethesda. Maryland based defense company will, when it completes the Sikorsky deal, also become the world’s largest manufacturer of military helicopters as well.

This year’s Helitech International is expanding its rotary wings to include looking at how rotary and unmanned aerial vehicle capability can provide increased value added. With UAV’s – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – ideally suited to undertake an ever increasing range of activities outside of pure military applications including infrastructure surveillance the prospect of achieving increased interface between Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) with that rotary powered operation working in tandem is the subject of this year’s main conference event. How rotary and unmanned might be better integrated in the future particularly for the purposes of maintenance and observation of rail, energy and other infrastructure assets makes this a particularly valuable and fascinating choice of subject the discuss.

Few can be in any doubt that the current business environment for helicopter manufacturers is tough. The market has of course been made considerably worse due to the collapse in the price of oil which has damaged exploration and production in similar measure. But what looks to be a very difficult arena in western markets is not universal across the globe. Guillaume Faury, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Helicopter has told an audience pre-Helitech media audience that there are segments in which Airbus can see a positive trend emerging. Guillaume cited China as one example of where the helicopter market continues to benefit from the opening of low-altitude air space and a market where he believes that “Airbus Helicopter could secure interesting contracts as the market further develops”. He also believes that Airbus Helicopters is particularly well-placed to benefit from growth in the Chinese market particularly in the utilities segment for rotary machines such as the A star, the H125, H1C and the Light Twin helicopters.

At Helitech Airbus will be profiling a number of helicopter products including the newest member of the family the H160, on this case being shown in mock–up form and which I understand will be taking centre stage on the Airbus stand. Whilst it is extremely rare that I talk about individual product it seems that the new generation 5.5 to 6 tonne twin-engine Airbus helicopter presents striking innovations, including the Fenestron canted at 12 degrees to the right, bi-plane horizontal stabilizers and the Blue Edge Blades, all of which are believed  to increased performance, reduce sound levels and increase passenger comfort. The H160 will apparently be tailored for a wide range of applications, including public service, oil and gas operations, emergency medical services and business and private aviation.

Also on display at Helitech this year will be the AgustaWestland AW169 VIP helicopter, a new twin engine, ten seat helicopter that has been very well received in the market. Meanwhile, Bell Helicopter will I am reliably told be displaying its 505 machine. Last but by no means least, Vector Aerospace will be showcasing its growing presence in the civil and para-public helicopter sectors. Vector may not be a manufacturer of helicopters but it is a very interesting company nonetheless and one specialising in major inspections and dynamic component overhaul and other activities that include full-service avionics capability, complete aircraft rewiring, glass cockpit engineering development and integration and more recently at its Almondbank, Perth facility in Scotland, composites repair.

A really good Helitech International seems assured.


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