Big orders for passenger jets tend to dominate air shows. At Paris, Farnborough, Dubai and Singapore, helicopters – while present – tend to be overshadowed both on the static display and by the big orders.
Although the Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace (LIMA) exhibition is admittedly among the industry’s smaller shows, with negligible action on the commercial front, it is Southeast Asia’s premier event for helicopter makers.
The biggest LIMA stories in 2011 and 2013 all revolved around helicopter orders. In 2013, local offshore support firm Weststar used the event to announce orders for six AgustaWestland AW139s and two AW189s, as well as a memorandum of understanding with Airbus Helicopters (then called Eurocopter) for two EC225s. In 2011, both firms also had orders, with Airbus Helicopters announcing a major maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is a major market for helicopters. Private and commercial users of rotary-wing assets in the country face fewer operational hurdles than in neighbouring countries such as Thailand or Singapore. In both countries, air traffic control obliges helicopters to “taxi” to the runway using a low hover just feet off the ground, where they are then allowed to climb out – essentially mimicking the actions of a fixed-wing aircraft. Landing, again, requires an approach similar to a fixed-wing aircraft, including a gradual descent to a low hover above the runway, followed by “taxiing” back to the ramp. In Malaysia, however, ATC allows helicopters to make a normal hovering ascent, and grants them far more leeway in flight planning and selecting landing spots.
Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database shows that there are 252 helicopters in service with Malaysian operators, including the country’s military and paramilitary forces. The market leader, by a considerable margin, is Airbus Helicopters, which has 111 rotorcraft flying in the country, or a 44% market share. AgustaWestland follows with 55 in-service helicopters, representing a 22% share, and Sikorsky, with 46, accounts for 18% of the total. The latter’s percentage includes the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s 29 obsolescent S-61 “Nuri” utility helicopters, which were delivered in the mid-1970s.
Among private operators, Weststar Aviation Services operates the country’s biggest fleet, with 30 in-service helicopters, which are mainly deployed for offshore oilfield support. The backbone of its fleet is 23 AW139s, most of which are equipped with 12-15 passenger seats. It also has three Sikorsky S-76s, three Airbus Helicopters AS365s and one EC120 from the same manufacturer. The operator was the launch customer for the AW189, and took delivery of its first example at 2014’s Farnborough air show.
Malaysia’s offshore oil market is the key driver of helicopter sales in the country. In late 2013, the nation was a key stop during Airbus Helicopters’ regional tour with its new super-medium EC175: a type optimised for offshore operations. As in previous years, the company will have a notable presence at LIMA, especially given that since the last show, it has completed deliveries of 12 EC725s to the air force.
Beyond Malaysia, the European manufacturer sees continuing growth opportunities around the region. It is keeping a wary eye on falling oil prices, which ultimately hurt demand for large, long-range helicopters such as the EC225 family, its key type for operations to deepwater oil rigs.
“Through its multiple investments and co-operation programmes, Airbus Helicopters significantly contributes to the development of local economies and improves the domestic level of aeronautical technology knowledge,” says the company.
“Due to the fall of the oil price, activity has been reduced. Natural gas production, however, has not been affected. The temporary decrease in prices means only a postponement and not cancellation of most of the projects. Both the aeronautical and energy industries are working on long-term plans. Hence the current situation shall not affect our future development and we continue to keep both the oil companies and operators abreast of our latest developments and product improvement.”
The only vertical lift area that will be downplayed at LIMA is in the dedicated attack helicopter niche. The country’s military has a need for such a capability, but funding remains a key challenge. Airbus Helicopters brought its Tiger offering to the show in 2011, but not in 2013, and it has no plans to bring an example to this year’s show. Other manufacturers, such as Bell Helicopter, also have no plans to bring armed helicopters.
Source: Flight International