Douglas Barrie, Max Kingsley-Jones and Jennifer Pite/LONDON

DESPITE THE recent gloom in the civil-helicopter business, the manufacturers are now more confident that a recovery is within sight, and have been bullishly developing new models.

In 1995, US-manufactured new civil helicopter shipments totalled 314, a slight improvement on the 308 in 1994. In the same year, North American civil shipments (including Bell Canada) totalled over 450 units. The Aerospace Industries Association had forecast US shipments would rise to over 360 units in 1996. With the first-half figures (136 units) being slightly behind last year's, however, this prediction may have been slightly optimistic.

In the past 18 months, half-a-dozen new helicopter models have been announced, the majority being light single- and twin-engined offerings. At Heli-Expo '96 in February, Allison Engines revised upwards its ten-year market forecast from the estimates published a year earlier. It now believes that some 6,100 civil turbine-powered helicopters will be delivered over the next ten years, of which over 3,300 will be light singles, with light twins making up much of the remainder (Flight International, 28 February-5 March P10). In its previous forecast, Allison had been concerned that the US Government's plan to dump around 3,000 surplus military helicopters on the civil market would severely damage new sales, and revised its forecast downwards. This year has produced a commensurate revision upwards, qualified with the warning that this potential will be realised only if the downward pressure on acquisition and operating costs is satisfied.



The industry has taken heed of the warnings and is now looking to produce new helicopters which are viable, cost-effective, alternatives to used machines, with the emphasis centred on pricing. Allison is now confident that the market should pick up from 1997, with the anticipated 20-year replacement cycle of the aircraft delivered during the 1977-82 boom, when annual shipments peaked at over 1,300 units in 1980.

North American manufacturers had a good 1995, and are looking forward to improvements this year. Bell captured just over half of the civil-helicopter market in 1995, and is expecting even better things in 1996, with the introduction of two new products, the 407 and 430.

Bell expects to sell all 18 of the new twin-engined Model 430s to be produced this year, and plans to increase the production rate in 1997. Deliveries of the single-engined Model 407, a development of the ubiquitous Model 206 family, began at Heli-Expo '96.

A new twin-engined derivative of the 407, the Model 427, was announced at the same venue, with Bell linking with Samsung to produce this stretched, twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206D-powered development. This new light twin will be a rival to the Eurocopter EC135 and McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems (MDHS) Explorer, and Bell claims that this new product will be offered at a price substantially lower than that of the competition. Certification is scheduled for late 1998.

MDHS expects 1996 to be even better than 1995, which it describes as its "best year". It delivered 39 civil units in 1995, and is aiming to hand over 60 this year.

Flight-testing of the MD600N, a stretched derivative of the single-engined MD520N, began in December 1995, but the programme suffered a blow in May when the second prototype crashed. Despite this incident, first deliveries are still scheduled before the end of the year, with MDHS expecting that some 14 aircraft will be delivered during December.

The accumulating sales of the MD Explorer helped MDHS' 1995 performance, and European Joint Aviation Authorities approval of the NOTAR (no tail rotor) anti-torque-system-equipped aircraft is said to be imminent, after much transatlantic debate.



Sikorsky is aiming to boost production of the twin-engined S-76 by one-third this year, to 24 aircraft, while Schweizer will increase its output of single piston and turbine models by 40%, to 70 units. In Europe, the picture is not as rosy, with Eurocopter delivering 89 commercial helicopters in 1995, around 39% of the world market. This represented a slight contraction in its market share, and the manufacturer has recognised the need to keep pricing of new machines competitive with that of the used market. It predicts that its 1996 performance will be "flat", but hopes for an upturn from 1997.

The EC135 received certification from Germany's civil-aviation authority, Luftfahrt-Bundsamt, in June, clearing the way for deliveries of the new twin-engined helicopter. Meanwhile, the single-engined EC120, which is being developed in conjunction with China National Aero-Technology Import and Export and Singapore Aerospace, is undergoing flight-testing, and deliveries are planned to start in 1998. The European consortium has begun studies of a Dauphin 2 replacement under the designation EC165, for which it sees a potential market of around 1,000 aircraft over the next 20 years.

Agusta has developed two new models, the A109 Power twin-turbine, a seven-seat derivative of the A109C, and the light single-engined A119 Koala. Italian certification of the former was achieved in June, while Koala approval is expected in mid-1997, and deliveries will begin three months later. Meanwhile, Augusta and its EH Industries partner, GKN Westland, have formed a common structure with which to market civil versions of the three-engined EH101 utility helicopter.



The heli-lift market has been affected by the availability of ex-military machines such as Bell UH-1s and AH-1s. This has forced Kaman to scale back annual production of its K-MAX to six units this year and next. Meanwhile, Washington-based Helipro has developed a heavylift derivative of the Sikorsky S-61, dubbed the "Shortsky". The conversion, which has received US and Canadian approval, involves the removal of a 1.3m section of the forward fuselage. Helipro claims "around 20" orders, and is now seeking European approval.

Since late 1995, Boeing has been holding talks with Chinese company Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing, on the possible resumption of Model 234 Commercial Chinook production under licence. The production of a minimum of 50 aircraft over the next five years is required for the project to get a go-ahead, with the aircraft being used in the heavylift role, primarily to support the country's expanding offshore oil industry.

Japan, meanwhile, is about to fly its first indigenously developed civil helicopter, the Mitsubishi MH2000.

The prospects of a civil tilt-rotor entering production received a boost at Heli-Pro '96 with the announcement by Bell that a decision on the joint development with Boeing of a nine-passenger design, dubbed the D-600, will be made later this year. The aircraft is conceived as a replacement for the medium-capacity model 412.

Source: Flight International