Columbia Helicopters is looking to capitalise on growing demand for commercial heavy-lift rotorcraft for firefighting and other utility missions as it pushes ahead with a new military-to-civil conversion development for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook.

Aurora, Oregon-based Columbia is the type certificate holder for the civil variant of the Chinook – the Model 234 – having previously acquired it from Boeing.

Rotak CH-47D-c-Dominic Perry FlightGlobal

Source: Dominic Perry

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However, the recent divestment of 33 D-model Chinooks by the US Army to the wider market has led to a plethora of model standards and challenges with operational restrictions.

“There are at least a dozen individual type certificates for this aircraft and none of them are the same,” says Mike Tremlett, chief executive of Columbia Helicopters.

Columbia, which acquired 11 of the D-model airframes, is now looking to address that confusion. Working with Boeing, it is developing a new programme called the 234 Special Purpose (234SP).

The programme will provide a fully Federal Aviation Administration-certificated Part 133-category rotorcraft. Approval is targeted for 2025.

In addition to the product standardisation, the 234SP will also be able to be operated easily outside the USA, a significant challenge with restricted-category aircraft.

“Our introduction of the 234SP into the market marks a new chapter in Chinook commercial operations,” says Tremlett. The single type certificate will also “standardise performance and limits”, he adds.

Columbia’s launch customer for the 234SP is Rotak Helicopter Services, which has its first of four examples on display at Heli-Expo in Anaheim; delivery is due in April.

Boeing will also incorporate the 234SP into the Chinook Integrated Sustainment Programme, providing operators with access to performance-based logistics support.

Columbia is also eyeing the creation of a similar military-to-civil certification initiative for the newer CH-47F, preparing the ground for future divestments of the type.

“We will introduce a path forward in the very near future for Fs to enter the market,” says Tremlett.