Thales predicts that a standard for helicopter terrain avoidance warning systems (TAWS) is likely to be agreed soon after mid-2008.

Thales' vice-president general manager helicopter solutions Phil Naybour, says this would make developing a heli-TAWS system a commercially viable proposition, with oil-support and police operators the biggest anticipated potential market for such a product.

Naybour says the standard for heli-TAWS is currently being hammered out at RTCA, the international standards-setting body.

Thales has considerable experience, says Naybour, in producing integrated TAWS avionic systems for fixed-wing, but helicopter roles and operating environments are so different that the appropriate TAWS standards for rotary wing would also be different - including the need to be compact, light and lower in cost.

One of Thales' major current contracts is developing the integrated avionics suite for the Sikorsky S76D, says Naybour. TAWS is not at present included in the package, but it could be integrated in due course.

When the RTCA TAWS standard is published, industry can develop viable solutions knowing they have the potential to be acceptable to regulators.

The International Helicopter Safety Team which, in 2005 set the objective of reducing worldwide helicopter accident rates by 80% by 2015, says an effective, low-cost heli-TAWs would be an important component in the overall strategy for achieving this objective.