The word "rebuilding" is likely to crop up frequently in conversations at the Helicopter Association International's Heli-Expo '97 (2-4 February, Anaheim, California). Manufacturers will be talking about rebuilding business post-recession, while the HAI itself will be addressing the problem of "phoenix", or rebuilt, aircraft.

According to HAI president Frank Jenson, this is a growing concern. He explains that a phoenix aircraft is one that is is badly damaged in an accident and declared "destroyed" by its insurance company and licensing authority, only for it to be rebuilt, often using unauthorised or spurious spare parts. If the aircraft still carries its manufacturer's name plate, it is sometimes difficult to prove that it is not the original machine, and the implications for safety standards, certification standards and manufacturers' product liability are very serious.

Jensen says that the International Federation of Helicopter Associations - formed at Heli-Expo '96 - will be meeting before this year's event to draw up a policy statement on the problem. "We must maintain the high standards established over the years for certification-we must prevent 'junk' aircraft from entering international commerce," he says.

The HAI says that it is expecting a good turnout at this year's exhibition, with 70 aircraft on display in the halls, and roughly the same number of exhibitors as in 1996, when the total passed 350.

Although one manufacturer describes the past 12 months as being "flat", in general, prospects for the civil-helicopter market appear to be improving, following depressed sales in the early 1990s, when the market in the USA began to be affected by the sell-off of surplus military machines. According to US analysts Aastad, there were 164 new helicopters registered with the US Federal Aviation Administration in the nine months to September 1996.

The US Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the trade group which keeps track of aerospace product sales in the USA, predicted late last year that civil helicopter shipments during 1996 would total 273 units, but that the delivery of large turbine-powered rotorcraft would push the overall value of deliveries up from $194 million in 1995 to $203 million in 1996. The AIA predicts that 1997 deliveries will total 357 units, worth about $302 million.

The USA's major rotary manufacturer, Bell Helicopter Textron enjoyed a successful 1996, shipping 217 new civil aircraft and 68 military machines. It will be displaying its complete product range at Heli-Expo '97, taking 12 aircraft to the show, including two multi-purpose twin-engined 430s.

McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems will be displaying its MD600 light single and Explorer light twin, while Sikorsky will have an S-76B on the static park, and will be promoting its S-92 helibus, scheduled for a 1998 first flight.

Of the smaller manufacturers, Schweizer Aircraft's static display will include a Model 300C recently delivered to the police force of Lakewood, California, which operates a total of three 300C light piston-engined helicopters as part of its pioneering 30-year-old Sky Knight law-enforcement patrol programme. The Elmira, New York-based helicopter-maker will also have a Model 300CB on the show floor. The lower-cost piston-engined training helicopter (priced at $183,000) is now being offered for the first time with either left-hand or right-hand pilot in command. This allows for installation of a third aircraft seat.

Kaman Aerospace did not have a K-MAX "aerial truck" on display at Heli-Expo '96 because the Bloomfield, Connecticut-based helicopter maker had placed all its available units into worldwide service. At this year's show, a K-MAX will be on static display, but no flying is planned. The aircraft is expected to be one of those used for the US Navy's Vertical Replenishment (vertrep) demonstration. Kaman hopes to be selected for another demonstration of commercially leased helicopters.


European fortunes

Eurocopter will be throwing its weight behind the new five-seat, single-engined, EC120 being developed in co-operation with China and Singapore. The marketing campaign for the helicopter will be launched officially at HAI, reflecting what the Franco-German company says are the "real hopes" for the helicopter in the USA. According to Eurocopter International president Philippe Harache, the EC120 is the only new helicopter able to respond to the need to replace the 8,000-strong fleet of ageing Bell JetRangers and Hughes 500s. "We feel we have the only helicopter that is able to compete in this segment", he says.

Two EC120 prototypes have so far built up a total of 280h test flying, one of which will be demonstrated at HAI, along with an eight-seater EC135, for which, Harache admits, the US competition is "very tough". He adds that the market for light twins "-is not particularly strong over there".

Eurocopter is considerably more optimistic about its market prospects following an impressive recovery of its civil and military business in 1996, with orders for 228 machines booked, worth Fr12 billion ($2.2 billion). Turnover for the year is set to be about the same as for 1996, at Fr9.3 billion, with 1997 expected to be similar, says president Jean-Francois Bigay.

Shrinking military procurement remains worldwide and this continues to hurt the company, although 1996 saw several key contracts, including sales of Eurocopter's Cougar MkI and MkII to Spain and Saudi Arabia. In addition, seven Panthers were sold to the United Arab Emirates and 38 Ecureuils to the UK.

On the civil side, the group saw the sale of 31 EC135s during 1996. "It has been very well accepted in the market," says Bigay. A major effort is also being mounted to sell derivatives of its existing line-up. The Cougar 100, Dauphin N3 and Ecureuil B3 and K117 have all received the treatment, which is aimed at improving sales within the Russian and CIS markets.


Source: Flight International