The Helitech Top Five
I am writing this on the flight to Amsterdam for this year’s Helitech International, hoping that the 45 minutes flying time will help concentrate the mind, despite the early start this morning.
This is the second year under the event’s new format, which has seen Helitech move from the more romantic setting of Duxford airfield near Cambridge and into the large exhibition halls of Excel last year and now the Amsterdam RAI.
The original decision to move the event from Duxford sparked some heated online debate at the time, with many lamenting the end of what they saw as a great day out and seemingly unable to even consider travelling to London to see the exhibition.
To me, such views were justified in a certain context but also short-sighted – if Helitech was to indeed become the European version of Heli-Expo, the change of emphasis and the move to a central hub were essential.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should say here that Shephard publishes the show daily for Helitech, so we obviously have a long-term vested interest in the event being a success.
But I would also argue that Helitech’s fresh focus contributes to a heathier industry, especially when aspects such as the event’s business leaders’ forum are considered, which this year features four key CEOs, who were unlikely to make the trek to Duxford, despite the picturesque surroundings.
So looking forward then, rather than backward, what is in store for visitors to this year’s event? At the danger of forgetting something critical, here are my top five themes of Helitech International 2014.
• New aircraft
Understandably, the helicopter OEMs manage to attract most of the attention at events like this, and this year will be no exception. AgustaWestland will showcase an AW189 in service with Danish operator Bel Air Aviation, while Airbus Helicopters is bringing an EC145 T2 – a type that recently made its in-service debut.
US manufacturers are also present, with Bell Helicopter looking to press home recent advances into Europe, with sales to some key operators. The company is bringing a Bell 429 that is on the verge of entering service with Wiltshire Air Ambulance, which will be the first to operate the type in the HEMS role in the UK. Bell will also be looking to update prospective customers on the progress of the new 505 and 525 models. Shephard understands a ceremony marking the first flight of the 505 has already been scheduled. MD Helicopters, meanwhile, will feature an MD 500E aircraft from Fuchs Helikopter.
The noticeable exception to this turn-out is Sikorsky, which is looking to take the new S-76D on a world tour to drum up interest in that type, but apparently didn’t deem attendance at the show as essential.
Less sexy perhaps but no less important is the issue of helicopter financing and the various specialist leasing companies that have emerged in recent years will be at the show in force.
Since Milestone Aviation Group launched in 2010, it has been joined by Lobo Leasing, LCI, Waypoint Leasing, Macquarie Rotorcraft, Infinity Helicopter Leasing, Amur Helicopter Services and GE Capital, which in 2014 announced it intended to make a $2 billion investment in helicopters.
With competition increasingly fierce, there are indications that the market has reached or possibly even exceeded its saturation point, and we look at this issue in some depth in the second issue of the Helitech show daily.
• Offshore safety
Five major incidents in the North Sea in recent years have cast a shadow over the oil and gas industry, and ongoing safety in the sector will likely be a key theme of this year’s event. The three major operators, Bond, Bristow and CHC, along with US-based Era Helicopters and Petroleum Helicopters, have jointly set up HeliOffshore to address safety issues. I will speak to the new HeliOffshore CEO Grethen Haskins in advance of the show about the aims of the organisation, with the interview appearing in the first issue of the show daily. The issue of safety will also be central to the Helitech Educational Programme held throughout the event, in particular on the final day.
• First-time exhibitors
The question of whether the change of direction for Helitech was a good idea will not be answered on internet forums but by the extent to which it is supported by exhibitors (and visitors) themselves. This year sees more than 55 first-time exhibitors from nine countries, including companies such as Genesys Aerosystems, ITT Enidine and BAE Systems. Their impression of the show will be critical in furthering the international dimension of the event in future.
• US pavilion
Similarly, the event features a US pavilion for the first time, following a partnership with the US Commercial Service (USCS) to jointly promote opportunities for American companies at the event. For many of those involved, this is the first time they have exhibited their products outside of the US and if they walk away happy this will also help provide momentum for the future.