By Daryl Murphy
Nearly 12,000 members of the helicopter fraternity descended into Dallas for the 55th Annual Helicopter Association International Convention, held February 9-11 at the Dallas Convention Center.
The expo is the largest civil helicopter trade show in the world, and the premier event for industry networking, training and education. The show hosted 477 exhibitors, an increase of 15 percent over last year’s convention.
Attendees browsed over 1,400 booths displaying the latest state-of-the-art helicopter products and technology and attended various educational seminars.
Despite a year and a half of security safeguards that threatened their very existence and a progressively softening market, things look optimistic.
“This industry has shown how resilient it is, and we have a lot of indications that we’re turning the corner and even growing,” said Roy Resavage, HAI president, at the opening general membership meeting.
In the airframe arena, there were no radical new products, but plenty of good news about deliveries of current models.
Eurocopter, whose American assembly and marketing subsidiary is located between Dallas and Fort Worth in Grand Prairie, announced it would be moving out of Texas because of “a lack of support from local politicians,” in the words of president and CEO Jean-François Bigay. The French company plans to try its luck in Columbus, Miss.
Eurocopter claimed 301 firm orders in 2002, which translated to a 47 percent (turbine) market share and No. 1 position among world helicopter manufacturers. Orders for three EC-130s, two EC-135s and two EC-155s were taken in the first two days of the expo.
Grand Prairie neighbor and compatriot Turbomeca, however, will stay put, and in fact split turbine production 50-50 with the French factory.
At nearby Bell, the BA609 civil tiltrotor has nearly completed ground runs and high-speed taxi tests. First flight was expected within a few weeks. Certification is now expected by 2007. The Bell/Agusta combine is currently doing certification flights on the Model AB139 at the Honeywell facility in Phoenix.
Bell deliveries last year totaled 155 units, down from a year earlier, and plans for the light single-engine JRX have been dumped. The year started with a boost, however, as the company secured a fleet order for 13 407s. By the second day of the show, they had secured orders for one each 412, 427 and 430, plus three 139s.
Sikorsky announced an upgraded S-76 with twin Turbomeca Arriel 2S2 engines, Quiet Tail Rotor and rotor de-ice derived from the system used on the recently certified S-92, and got a block order for 15 76s plus another five contracts on the 92.
Agusta will begin assembly of its A119 Koala in Pennsylvania after receiving an order for two aircraft from that state’s police department. They had also sold six A119s by day two of the show.
A newly revitalized Enstrom had received orders for 15 aircraft (piston and turbine) since June 2002, with the prospect of another 20 this year. By the second day of the expo sales totaled two 480Bs and one 280FX. MD Helicopters moved five Explorers.
As usual, Robinson takes top honors, with 90 orders since New Year’s Day. Part of the increase was due to the company’s newly certified IO-540-powered R44 Raven II, which has accounted for 124 orders since its announcement last June. In response to the surge in sales, plans are underway to increase production to 11 helicopters per week and add 50 employees to the work force. Five Raven II orders were taken during the first two days of the convention.
The expo concluded with the annual “Salute to Excellence” banquet and awards ceremony at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel, where outstanding individuals who have contributed to the promotion and growth of the civil helicopter industry through a variety of accomplishments were recognized.
They included Richard L. Beers, Keystone Helicopter, Aviation Maintenance Technician Award; Steve Wile, Northern Airborne Technology, Aviation Repair Specialist Award; The Government Flying Services of Hong Kong, Igor L. Sikorsky Award for Humanitarian Service; Frank A. Culver, Salt River Project, Joe Mashman Safety Award; and George Bedford, Helicopter Adventures, Outstanding Certified Flight Instructor Award.
The remaining awards went to Thomas C. Grassia, New England Helicopter Council, Agusta Community Service Award; Austin-Travis County STAR Flight, Eurocopter Golden Hour Award; Richard C. Kirkland, Excellence in Communication Award; Robert E. Amedeo, Chevron USA, Helicopter Maintenance Award; Paul F. O’Sullivan Jr., MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award; Jim Chadwick, Chadwick-Helmuth Co., Lawrence D. Bell Memorial Award; Douglas E. Makkonen, Trans North Helicopters, Robert E. Trimble Memorial Award; and Francisco Orlaineta, Evergreen Helicopters, Pilot of the Year Award.