Sikorsky expects the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to approve within a month an automated approach capability allowing the S-92 helicopter to more safely complete oil rig landings in bad weather.
The long-awaited rig approach certification would improve safety by reducing pilot workload by some 60%,says Spencer Elani, Sikorsky's senior programme manager for the S-92.
Essentially, a pilot would input the coordinates for the oil rig, and the aircraft would fly itself along waypoints to within a short distance of the landing platform, he says.
The aircraft would then approach the oil rig at a speed of 30kt (55km/h) ground speed and allow the pilot to make a final decision on completing a landing or going around.
Sikorsky believes it can fly the aircraft to a proximity of 200m (656ft) from an oil rig, however the FAA will initially certify the aircraft to an offset of only 800m.
Elani says Sikorsky has an agreement in place with the FAA to steadily work on reducing the minimum approach distance. The next step will be to certify the S-92 to close within 540m and then eventually 400m.
While Sikorsky believes it is technically possible to close to within 200m of a mile using the autopilot, it remains to be seen if the FAA will ultimately approve capability operationally.