Faced with a flat market, commercial helicopter manufacturers are looking for ways to stimulate sales.

Taking the lead at Heli-Expo, Bell Helicopter launched its 360° ownership programme, which packages the aircraft, financing, insurance, warranty, training and maintenance under a single monthly payment plan.

Intended to increase the appeal of helicopters by making them simpler to buy, the programme could save US domestic customers up to 25% on the overall cost of buying and operating a helicopter, says project leader Sylvia Ospinal.

The 360í programme will be offered initially on Bell 206 and 407 light singles, but will be available globally on all its helicopters by year-end. Agreements are being finalised with Bell's finance, insurance and maintenance providers, and the first contracts under the programme should be signed within two months, Ospinal says.

Other manufacturers are moving to stimulate demand by launching improved models. Eurocopter delivered the first EC130B4 light turbine single at Heli-Expo, to Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.

Enstrom Helicopter received US certification for its uprated 480B light turbine single on the eve of the show. The 480B has an upgraded drivetrain providing a 70kg (150lb) increase in payload. Deliveries begin in April.

Kaman's efforts to create new markets for its slow-selling K-MAX external-lift helicopter are paying dividends. Petroleum Helicopters has ordered two aircraft for a power station construction project in Taiwan. Kaman worked with Taiwan Power to accelerate construction byre-engineering the project around helicopter lift. A local operator has placed a deposit on a third, used, K-MAX for the project.

MD Helicopter is increasing its focus on government markets after delivering the first armed MD900 Explorer to the Mexican navy. Law enforcement is a growing market for the Explorer, with a pending ten-aircraft order from the Dutch National Police.

Schweizer Aircraft sees a potential new market in unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) based on its light helicopters. The company has begun marketing the Robocopter 300, based on its 300CB piston single, while the new 333 turbine single is the basis of Northrop Grumman's Fire Scout UAV.

Robinson Helicopter, which led the industry with a record 390 new R22 and R44 piston singles last year, has launched a programme to promote installation of lightweight helipads on the roofs of industrial buildings, initially in the Los Angeles area. "If a customer orders an R44, we will build, install and permit the pad," says president Frank Robinson.

Source: Flight International