Airbus Helicopters has reduced the published empty weight of its new H160 medium-twin by 100kg (220lb), driven by analysis of the airframes built so far and better than anticipated fuel consumption.

Disclosing the improvement, Gilles Armstrong, head of the H160 programme, says, as a result, operators will benefit from increases to range and useful load.

Range rises by about 60nm (111km), he says, or 30min extra endurance; payload, meanwhile, grows by 100kg. Airbus Helicopters has previously listed maximum useful load for the H160 as “up to 2,000kg”.

H160-c-Thierry Rostang_Airbus Helicopters

Source: Thierry Rostang/Airbus Helicopters

Route proving trials with PHI are due to begin shortly following pilot check ride process

No design changes have been needed to achieve the improvements, but analysis of airframe weights “has allowed us to remove a certain amount of conservatism” that was inherent in the airframer’s projections, says Armstrong.

Analysis of weight data from the 28 customer aircraft so far delivered has shown “less than a 1% gap between different aircraft”, he says; historically “we would have expected a bigger spread”.

“What we are confirming here that it is not luck or one-offs – we have done the work to confirm this is the trend and this is the new baseline.”

Operators flying “heavily equipped” helicopters, for example search and rescue- or police-roled examples, will see most benefit from the changes, he adds, “because the more quipped it was, the more prudent we had been about the official weight”.

“In all these missions you get an extra passenger or an extra 60nm [range].”

Around 75% of the 100kg total comes from the lower airframe weight, while the remainder is driven by better than expected fuel consumption from the H160’s twin Safran Helicopter Engines Arrano powerplants.

These are delivering fuel-burn figures around 3% lower than forecast, says Armstrong, enabling around 25kg less fuel to be carried for a typical mission.

The airframer has now updated its technical publications and flight manuals to reflect the changes.

Armstrong says the baseline improvement will further “close the gap” to the competing, and heavier, Leonardo Helicopters AW139 intermediate-twin.

For the offshore market, the number of platforms beyond the range of the H160 and still able to be served by the AW139 will be “very, very small”, he argues, adding: “In my view, today there’s not an awful lot of reasons to buy an AW139 in oil and gas now.”

Interest from the oil and gas market will be spurred by the outcome of route-proving activity in the USA. Led by customer PHI, the flights are due to commence soon, says Armstrong.

That process was held up by the delay to US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification for the H160, a milestone finally achieved in June 2023.

But with US type approval now secured, Airbus Helicopters has been able to ratify the training syllabus for the H160: Flight Standardization Board approval for the process was received in February and check flights for PHI pilots will begin next week, says Armstrong.

In addition, US validation for instrument flight rules operations is expected “in the coming weeks”, the airframer says.

Interest from the oil and gas industry in the H160 “is huge”, he says, describing the entry into service with PHI as a “key marker” for the programme.

Backlog for the H160 is “over 100”, including 30 examples of the military M-model variant being developed for the French armed forces.

Production lead times are also coming down as the industrial process matures and different varaints enter service, Armstrong adds.

“We are driving the industrial ramp-up very hard,” he says. “That’s what we are really going into in this mid part of the year and coming in with a better lead time.”

Meanwhile, the airframer continues its maturity testing of the helicopter, recently beginning the second 1,000h block of ground runs using the whirl tower facility at its Marignane production site in the south of France. That process will continue until the end of the year, with a third phase still to come.

“That’s going to help us get ahead of the curve on the high flight rate that we expect out of the PHI operation.”