Sikorsky unveiled at Helitech a series of enhancements to its S-92 flagship, including a 225kg (500lb) increase in payload and an optional automated approach capability pitched at the offshore market.
The upgrade - which takes the S-92's maximum gross weight to at least 12,150kg - will be included on production helicopters and offered as a retrofit from the end of 2010.
Marc Poland, vice-president of Sikorsky Global Helicopters, expects the operators of more than half the 140-odd S-92s in service to opt for the package, which he says will involve minimal installation.
"The capability is already in the aircraft, so it's just a case of us clearing it for certification," he says. "There is likely to be a small list of parts that will have to be replaced - a doubler here or there or a piece of fuselage. There's no major component replacement, so it won't be a big hit."
Poland says the modifications are targeted mainly at North Sea operators "where payload is key" and where any technology that can reduce pilot workload on approach to a rig is welcomed.
The fully coupled automated approach capability, developed in-house by Sikorsky, will allow flightcrews to approach platforms with greater safety and lower minimums, he says. Co-ordinates can be loaded into a database before the flight and the helicopter will be directed to a pre-selected position as close as 200m (650ft) from and 50ft above the helideck. At least 14 pilot actions that are necessary to approach an oil platform will be reduced to just seven, all conducted before departure or during cruise, says Sikorsky. "On bad weather days, it will make the difference between getting to a rig and not getting to a rig," says Poland.
Poland also sees signs of the market "starting to be more active" after 18 months of erosion of the large backlogs built up by manufacturers ahead of the downturn. "We are not going to see the market flip back to 2007 demand, but we should be able to get build rate back up to where we want it to be," he says.
Sikorsky expects to produce 34 S-76s and 25 S-92s this year - similar totals to 2008, which were, in turn, about a quarter down on the previous year.