Sikorsky has finally received airworthiness certification for its S-76D, allowing the airframer to begin delivering the long-delayed medium twin.

Gaining the S-76D's basic airworthiness certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration consumed five years of Sikorsky's attention and came four years later than originally scheduled in 2008.

The milestone allows Sikorsky to begin delivering a backlog of commercial orders for the medium twin, which replaces the S-76C++ model that ceased production three months ago.

"This is a huge day for Sikorsky," says Dan Hunter, director of Sikorsky commercial programmes. "The [civil helicopter] market is recovering nicely, and we're delighted to be getting this next version of the S-76 built and delivered to our customers, who have been waiting patiently and lining up."

Sikorsky expects to deliver 10 S-76Ds by the end of the year, says Ed Beyer, vice-president of Sikorsky. The rotorcraft manufacturer does not disclose its commercial helicopter backlog, but the Flightglobal Ascend Online database lists 32 S-76Ds on order from a wide range of clients, including Japan's coastguard and Saudi Arabia's interior ministry.

Beyer says the S-76D has been sold to customers in three of the four critical markets for the medium twin, with VIP transport, offshore oil companies and search and rescue services on contract. Sikorsky also is "very close" to signing a first order for the emergency management services sector, Beyer adds.

But Sikorsky will also focus next year on expanding the certificated flight envelope of the S-76D. The aircraft was delayed largely due to performance shortfalls of the Pratt & Whitney Canada 210S turboshaft engines, which struggled to deliver a 4% reduction in specific fuel consumption at a maximum continuous power of 1,070shp (798kW).

With the baseline envelope now ready for delivery, Sikorsky will work on expanding the high-altitude envelope at higher ambient temperatures, Hunter says. A secondary priority is to increase the envelope at very low temperatures, he adds.

In July, newly-appointed Sikorsky chief executive Mick Maurer said the company had launched a market survey to search for new product opportunities, noting that the company has always lacked options in the attack helicopter and light-twin segments.

Source: Flight International