(This first appeared as a Comment in the 18 February issue of Flight International)
Helicopters are one of the quiet success stories in the aviation industry. The airline buying spree of the last few years gets the attention, but helicopter sales have been at least keeping pace.
Rising demand for aircraft with vertical take-off capability – so critical to the booming and runway-independent oil and gas industry – has fed a wave of new product launches since 2011, culminating with Bell Helicopter’s short light single announcement at the Paris air show.
There are still a few gaps in the industry’s collective portfolio. Sikorsky may need to find a niche between the S-72D and S-92. Bell Helicopter must eventually develop a true replacement for the 412EPI. Airbus Helicopters has yet to fully define the X6 and X9 projects that will follow the X4 and the EC175 into service by 2020.
All the big airframers, including AgustaWestland with the AW609, are dabbling in high-speed propulsion, with uncertain prospects for its feasibility and viability. Meanwhile, a range of new starts, typified by the Urban Aeronautics AirMule, seek to redefine vertical lift capability with ducted fan propulsion.
All of these interests and trends collide next week at the Heli-Expo convention in Anaheim, California. The industry may be ready to take a breather from new product announcements. But then again, it has a lot of catching up to do.