Output of Western-built civil helicopters increased by nearly 20% last year, but the bulk of the improvement came from the lower, generally piston-powered end of the market as major manufacturers and customers alike await the entry of new and improved medium-to-large machines.

Deliveries from the 10 main manufacturers totalled 989, some 161 units (19.4%) up on 1999. The single-engine-only sector saw output rise 38.7%, and single/twin-engine firms saw a 7% increase.

The top-end sector was again dominated by Bell Helicopter Textron and Eurocopter together accounting for more than 80% of total civil deliveries. Remaining sales were largely divided between Agusta (now Agusta Westland) and MD Helicopters (MDHI). Sikorsky came in fifth with under 2% of this market.

Eurocopter remained the largest single supplier of civil helicopters, delivering nearly 290 machines in 2000, including some 105 single-engine AS350B2/B3s and 90 EC120s. The company, wholly owned by EADS, is looking to grow this year with the first delivery of the 12/14-seat EC155 and planned public debut of the improved EC145/BK117C2, developed with Japan's Kawasaki.

Eurocopter enjoyed strong sales in the USA, claiming 40% of the market, thanks mainly to the popularity of its single-turbine helicopters. "We delivered 60 aircraft last year," says Eurocopter North America vice president sales and marketing Eric Walden, "with the EC120 accounting for 40% of the light single market."

Bell's deliveries slipped slightly in 2000, while its order backlog in dollar terms shrank nearly 17%, but it drew comfort from increased revenue boosted in part by military sales of Huey 2 upgrade kits. Civil deliveries will be boosted as production of the Model 427 light twin accelerates in 2001, while in the longer term Bell and partner Agusta await certification of the new 15-seat AB139 helicopter and BA609 civil tiltrotor late next year and in 2003, respectively.

Agusta also experienced a slightly slower year in terms of the number of civil helicopters shipped, but it reports growing police and medevac interest in the new single-engine A119 Koala.

MDHI, now owned by Dutch group RDM, fell short of its projected output of 50 helicopters in 2000, but is hoping to catch up this year with 65 planned deliveries. MDHI blames last year's shortfall on the transfer of MD500/600 and Explorer component production from Boeing to new suppliers such as Kaman and Turkish Aerospace. "This has caused difficulty in terms of parts and longer completion times," says MDHI chairman Henk Schaeken. "We're now catching up, with 14 of our 41 deliveries for the year coming in December."

Sikorsky is in a similar position, with the move of S-76C cabin production to Czech manufacturer Aero Vodochody having restricted deliveries of the 13-seater. Vodochody is currently producing its first three fuselages and is expected to ramp up to 15-20 shipsets annually by the end of this year.

The improved performance of the light sector was driven by Robinson Helicopter, which saw output rise 40% with the advent of hydraulic controls for the R440. Schweizer also increased output, while Brantly re-entered the market (see features p32-55). The Western firms are now joined by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which delivered the first three production MH2000s last year.

Source: Flight International