MD Helicopters is “souping up” in-service MD500-series aircraft, disclosing an upgrade programme that will raise maximum take-off weight (MTOW) and useful load for the light-singles.

Mesa, Arizona-based MD Helicopters also continues to invest in its aftersales and support provision as it continues its rehabilitation from its 2022 bankruptcy and the years of underinvestment which preceded it.

Super D and Super E-c-MD Helicopters

Source: MD Helicopters

Upgrade programme brings elements of the MD 530F to earlier models

However, there is still little clarity on the long-term plans of new owners Bardin Hill, MBIA Insurance and MB Global Partners – debt holders who emerged in control of the firm following its restructure – nor of the future for the NOTAR-equipped MD900 family which MD Helicopters is still hopeful of offloading.

In addition, the pace of recovery, particularly for the aftermarket business, continues to be hampered by supply chain shortages.

Describing 2023 as a “busy but successful year”, chief executive Brad Pedersen told a pe-Heli-Expo press conference in Anaheim on 26 February that it would be another “six to 12 months before we get our whole supply chain healthy”.

Production has stabilised, he says, sufficient to allow 10 deliveries in 2023 – the highest annual total since 2017 – a figure that will rise to 16 this year.

Backlog now extends to 2025 following its sales success over the last 12 months in which 30 orders – 25 military and five civil – were booked.

Planned upgrades to the MD500 will be rolled out from early 2025, allowing existing operators of D- and E-model helicopters to raise them closer to the latest F-model standard.

Called the Super D and Super E, the enhancements will deliver “souped up” versions of the pair, says Ryan Weeks, vice-president of aftermarket support.

Modifications include new longer main and tail rotor blades, and extensions to the tail boom and horizontal and vertical stabilisers. Cost is in the region of $400,000 for both the Super D and E upgrades.

Even with the lower-powered Rolls-Royce M250-C20 engine, MD 530D operators will see MTOW rise by 12% or 158kg (350lb), while useful load increases by 18% or 131kg. Also upgrading the engine to the C30 variant will see hover performance boosted by an average 85%, adds Weeks.

“These are pretty drastic increases and we are hopeful that there will be a large number of the fleet interested in these upgrades.”

Owners of the MD 530E can also opt for a full E-to-F enhancement under an existing progamme that includes a new M250-C30 engine and costs $1-1.5 million.

Pedersen will not elaborate on any upgrade plans under consideration for new-build aircraft nor when they might arrive, with the focus instead on making the MD 530 easier to build “to improve our throughput”.

Additionally, no progress has been made on the sale of the MD 900 programme as MD Helicopters continues to seek a “buyer to bring that back into production”.

Pedersen sees that goal as “realistic”, with around six parties having expressed interest in the programme. “Although some have eyes bigger than their stomachs I think there are some people that really want to make a go of it.”

But if the manufacturer’s immediate future is secure, there is no indication of its owners’ longer-term plans.

Pedersen emphasises that while MD Helicopters is “not for sale”, he acknowledges that its owners “have some sort of exit strategy” and that the ownership has “some finite life”.

“We are majority owned by an insurance company… and I don’t know if they really want to own a helicopter company,” he says.

However, the immediate priority is about “growth and earnings”, he says, adding: “If EBITA is strong then they’ll like to keep us.”