Moving beyond the year-long struggle to correct a 2012 main gearbox issue that led to a pair of North Sea ditchings and a near 12-month grounding, Airbus Helicopters is rolling out a new version of the EC225 with more power, range and automation.
After a scheduled certification in late 2015, the EC225e will compete with the higher-gross-weight version of the Sikorsky S-92, says Airbus Helicopters chief executive Guillaume Faury.
“The EC225e responds to operators’ requirements for extended range mission capability for deep water operations and oil and gas missions that are going always to longer distances from the coast,” Faury says.
The additional range has been achieved by replacing a baggage compartment with a 470 litre (370gal) internal fuel tank, says Marie-Agnes Veve, head of the Super Puma programme at Airbus Helicopters.
That extra fuel extends the range of the EC225e on a normal day with a load of 10 passengers to 300nm (556km), or a 25nm improvement, Veve says.
Airbus Helicopters is also upgrading the engines to a new 2B variant of the Turbomeca Makila. It will retain the architecture of the current-generation Makila 2A1 , but feature a new combustion chamber and high-power turbine blades, according to Turbomeca.
The design changes will allow a “significant increase” in maximum take-off weight in Category A conditions, Veve says.
At the same time, Airbus Helicopters will attempt to reduce the workload on pilots performing rig approaches in bad weather, she says.
Veve contrasts the EC225e's automation with what she describes as a “copy-and-paste” method employed by Sikorsky on the S-92. Rather than automate traditional approaches, Airbus Helicopters is developing new approach patterns to oil rigs that are enabled by new automated functions, she says.
This enhanced functionality will only be available on the EC225e and cannot be retrofitted to earlier versions of the helicopter, she says.
Avionics bench testing has already started, Veve adds, along with initial test flights with the new fuel tank. Hot weather certification trials will follow in the third quarter of this year.
The airframer has already secured a launch customer for the variant through a commitment for 15 aircraft from lessor Lease Corp International.