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If last year was the ‘annus horribilis’ for the civil helicopter sector, that notion has definitely not crept into 2017. Indeed, it has not been an understated or even slow recovery story for the first part of this year with returns to flight, concept aircraft and new platforms dominating the commercial helicopter market.
The big news lies with two platforms that were dogged by crashes. The H225 received a boost recently when the UK’s CAA and the Norwegian aviation authority agreed to lift the no-flying ban on the H225 and AS332 L2 aircraft following the fatal crash in April of last year.
Furthermore, the Bell 525 Relentless has returned to the skies, a year on from the company’s loss of one of its flight test vehicles, which crashed in a fatal accident involving two pilots.
The flight, which took place on 7 July, followed the FAA granting an experimental certificate renewal. Bell is still waiting for the NTSB final report. The company envisions that the aircraft’s type certification will take place at the end of 2018, with deliveries beginning in early 2019.
Experimentation with new technologies has also been part of the tapestry this year for two of the main OEMs. Airbus Helicopters has revealed its high-speed demonstrator, dubbed Racer, as part of the European Clean Sky 2 programme. The company unveiled a model of the concept aircraft, called Racer, in its aerodynamic configuration at Paris Air Show in June.
A wide range of next-generation technologies wereon display at Heli- Expo 2017 in Dallas, in particular Bell Helicopter’s FCX-001.
The investment is focused on supporting technologies and not on a flight test vehicle. If times were as tough as last year, perhaps industry would not have seen the idea come to fruition.
One aircraft set to fly in the near future was also showcased at the IDEF exhibition in May 2017, as Turkish Aerospace Industries unveiled a full-scale mock-up of its T625 helicopter. The 6t platform is the first commercial rotorcraft to be completely developed in-country, a major step forward in the nation’s indigenous aerospace design and manufacturing capability. The company is aiming to conduct the T625’s first flight by next year.
Another home-grown project has been revealed by Russian Helicopters, which is planning for a new single-engine light helicopter. Known as the VRT500, it has a coaxial rotor layout with two three-blade rotors and is tentatively set for completion in late 2019.
In addition, the emergence of Erickson and CHC from bankruptcy has been indicative that the tide of change within the industry is rising towards steady growth. This market positivity has been further helped by companies like Kaman delivering the K-Max again after production of the model stopped for more than a decade.
The next half of the year is looking to be just as buoyant, with promises of orders and LOIs across civil platforms. New models are entering the market in earnest, like the now FAA-certified Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, and the Airbus H160, which is gearing up for its certification next year.
In relation to the civil sector, we are seeing OEMs continually investing in the future, with new technologies and next-generation rotorcraft, and I look forward to shows like Helitech International 2017 in London to see that industry optimism on the show floor.