Continued demand from the oil and gas sector is fuelling growth for Sikorsky, and the current global economic woes show little sign of affecting the US-based helicopter manufacturer.
Sikorsky VP commercial programmes Marc Poland says the offshore market is a key area for the business along with the corporate sector and emerging opportunities in Homeland Security and other Government roles.
“Everyone is aware of the credit crunch, but in the short term at least we are not seeing any major impact,” says Poland. “What we do know is that with the price of oil so high it leads to more challenging oil production targets and that translates into a requirement for more helicopters.”
The fact that customers are demanding extended ranges from aircraft operating offshore is good news for Sikorsky, according to Poland because the S-92 is at the top of the market when it comes to range. “The largest operators – Bristow, CHC, PHI and increasingly VIH based in Vancouver - are all embracing the S-92 in large numbers. Our timing in terms of when we introduced the aircraft to the market was just right.”
Poland says the UK search and rescue market remains a target for the company. The UK’s SAR-H competition to will see existing Royal Air Force and Royal Navy SAR helicopters replaced from 2012 under a private finance initiative. Sikorsky has S-92s currently operating in the role through CHC, which has an interim arrangement with the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
“VIP orders both from private individuals and large public corporations are still important and although this area has slowed a little, there hasn’t been too much impact,” Poland explains. “We see the greatest growth opportunities in what you might call the non-military government agencies. By that I mean Ministry of Interior, police and other law enforcement agencies.”
On the S-76 programme, where the latest -D model is undergoing development, Sikorsky has customer options on the first 100 production aircraft, equivalent to more than two years of production slots and it continues to run the current S-76C++ production at close to full capacity.
“We’re producing aircraft at the rate of one a week,” says Poland, “and even at that rate the backlog is increasing, not shrinking. In terms of S-76D development we very recently completed the first FAA-compliant main rotor specimen. This will be flown first on the S-76C and then fly on the -D later this year.”
The S76-D, which will feature all composite main rotor blades and new Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210S engines, is currently undergoing ground tests. The first two fuselages delivered by Aero Vodochody are currently in completion. Integrated de-icing will be included on the aircraft, a system derived from the capability on the S-92.
Sikorsky’s agreement with Changhe Aircraft Industries in China to build fuselages for the S-76 is now operational. The first aircraft is already being built with the initial fuselage due to arrive at Sikorsky’s Stratford plant in the first half of 2009.
“The demand is such that we can support two bases of operation, with both Aero Vodochody and Changhe supplying us with fuselages,” Poland says. “We have been in a sprint to keep up with demand. If the Asia market grows significantly it might be viable and attractive to have fuselages built in China and to be kept there for the regional market, but that is further down the line.”
In other programmes, Sikorsky’s S-434 prototype is now flying and Saudi Arabia will be the launch customer for 10 aircraft. The S-434 is derived from the Schweizer 333, with some additional unique features and a four-blade rotor which delivers extra performance.