Shell selects H160 for operation by PHI in Gulf of Mexico

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International energy group Shell has selected leading US offshore helicopter operator PHI to operate four Airbus H160s to service a support contract in the Gulf of Mexico.

The contract marks the entry into the oil and gas market of the H160 with a wealth of design features promising new levels of safety, comfort and schedule reliability in offshore operations.

The three companies – Airbus, PHI and Shell – are cooperating in a unique partnership. In a pioneering move, Airbus will provide one H160 ahead of final deliveries to PHI and Shell for a year-long route-proving programme to enable the operator and the final customer to familiarize themselves with the type’s advanced features and mitigate the normal challenges around entry into service.

At PHI it will be based at Houma, Louisiana and join a large company fleet of H125s and H135s deployed in  emergency medical service throughout the United States, as well as two H145s operating for Shell on pipeline survey work in Louisiana, and two H145s flying the world’s longest harbour pilot shuttle in Mackay, Australia.

Airbus Helicopters Executive Vice President Global Business, Ben Bridge, said: “We greatly appreciate the innovative thinking of our customers in formulating this partnership around the H160 which will begin a new era of safety, reliability and environmental performance in the medium class of offshore operations.”

PHI Aviation Managing Director, Keith Mullett said: “We are proud to be playing a key role in the entry into service of the highly advanced H160 in the offshore sector and we look forward to bringing a step change in operating standards through the confidence building route-proving exercise agreed with our partners Airbus and Shell.”

Shell Aircraft Vice President, Tony Cramp said: “Shell welcomes the opportunity to embrace new aviation technology and introduce this highly advanced and efficient aircraft to safely service our vibrant and growing offshore business in the US Gulf of Mexico.”

Shell General Manager – Supply Chain Deepwater, Viet Van added: “The emissions reductions that the H160 provides help us continue to deliver crude and natural gas with the smallest carbon footprint of our global deepwater portfolio, and are another important step to meeting our goal of zero net emissions by 2050.”

With 68 patents, the H160 is the world’s most technologically advanced helicopter and features an unprecedented suite of pilot aids delivered through its Helionix avionics which substantially reduces crew workload and decreases the risk of pilot error.

They include the world’s first ground helipad assisted take-off procedure, a vortex ring state pre-alerting system and a recovery mode to automatically regain steady flight in difficult circumstances.

The H160 is powered by two of the latest Arrano engines from Safran Helicopter Engines and incorporates an embedded monitoring system and a redundancy of sensors, and can be maintained autonomously far from base. The design emphasises robust corrosion defence specifically envisaging offshore missions.

Leonardo and ENAV to develop more efficient solutions for helicopters in operating civilian air space

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Leonardo and ENAV signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) in Italy primarily aimed at modernising and making safer, efficient and sustainable the use of helicopters and air space leveraging the most advanced navigation technologies.  The aim of the partners is to join forces and offer helicopter operators products and services in the advanced instrument navigation field, while also contributing to modernise the relevant infrastructures. The partners are extremely committed to strengthen a major national resource.

Through the LoI this innovative collaboration combines Leonardo’s industrial capabilities for design, production, supply and support of modern, high performance helicopters together with ENAV’s expertise in the development and management of air space in Italy and overseas.

The agreement will allow the partners to develop and supply advanced integrated solutions for both private and public service operators, in Italy and internationally. This collaboration marks a unique initiative in the world’s aviation sector and also contributes to Italy’s critical infrastructures sustainability, digitalization and safety objectives, with both partners as major stakeholders.

Today the air navigation infrastructures, particularly procedures and air space development, are designed mainly to support fixed-wing aircraft flight operations, limiting rotary-wing aircraft’s potential and versatility. Helicopters inherently feature great flexibility and a higher degree of freedom in manoeuvrability, primarily based on vertical take-off and landing and hover capabilities.

The latest certification standard of Leonardo helicopters, with its advanced systems and equipment, already allows the use of modern Performance Based Navigation (PBN) navigation procedures, and ENAV has already been at the forefront of design PBN procedures for both fix- and rotary-wing aircraft for years.

PBN procedures, carried out through advanced satellite navigation, significantly contribute to air space optimisation delivering greater flight operation safety thanks to greater navigation, approach and landing precision and accuracy, a key enabler particularly in certain weather conditions. PBN is combined or replaces the more traditional land-based radio navigation systems

Moreover, PBN procedures ensure a reduction in polluting emissions and noise through dedicated routes and higher efficiency. Passenger transport, emergency medical service and rescue, disaster relief operations, surveillance and fire-fighting are among the main applications which can benefit from this technology, in all-weather conditions, day and night. Its adoption and implementation significantly enhance flight safety, environment protection, public service flexibility, responsiveness and effectiveness, air transport efficiency.

Alessandro Profumo, Chief Executive Officer of Leonardo, said: “With this initiative we confirm our commitment to contribute to Italy’s growth and competitiveness by strengthening a critical infrastructure like our sky as well as the systems and rules regulating its use. We do this by introducing innovation, digitalization and procedures which will come closer and closer to the future ‘urban air mobility’ scenarios, thanks to the continuous modernisation in the field of integration with our expertise in helicopters and the relevant flight safety enabling technologies, air traffic control systems and space technologies. An integrated solution delivering benefits for mobility, safety, environment protection and services for the communities. Italy, with its industrial and technological excellence, confirms its contribution to the efforts made by Europe in this sector with programmes like SESAR and can become a benchmark at an international level.”

Paolo Simioni, Chief Executive Officer of ENAV, said: “We’re proud of this agreement which shows aviation industry’s ability to create synergies aimed at helping our sector grow and contributing to modernize systems which make flight more efficient and safer. Air space is a prime infrastructure for the Italian and international economy growth. Therefore, we’re investing in technological innovation which must also be sustainable and support the environment. Leonardo and ENAV are two strategic players for the technological and infrastructural development of this sector and this partnership provides further evidence of the technological excellent and quality of ENAV’s people. I’m confident that this collaboration will provide both partners with a competitive advantage in the international market.”

Editor’s Comment: Leonardo’s pirate of Penzance now boarding

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It seems barely a month goes by when I am not writing a news item related to another of Leonardo’s AW139 entering service with a new operator. This time it is Penzance Helicopters which this month has relaunched its Isles of Scilly service, flying from Penzance direct to Tresco and St Mary’s using an AW139.

The helicopter is regarded by many operators as the best in its class and has set the benchmark for passenger safety and comfort. The AW139’s exceptional cabin area and low-noise signature mean that passengers will be ale to enjoy the impressive coastal scenery on the way to the islands during the 15-minute flight.

Although originally due to arrive in March, the service was delayed due to export restrictions and control measures for COVID-19. But the introduction of the aircraft had been much anticipated. Jeremy Awenat, Managing Director of Sloane Helicopters, operator of the service, explains: “We are delighted to be introducing into service the state-of-the-art AW139 helicopter.”

“The helicopter link delivers significant socio-economic benefit to the Isles of Scilly and West Cornwall – especially as the area rebuilds its tourism industry – and is a crucial service to visitors and locals alike. While awaiting delivery of the helicopter we have maintained the service by operating with a fleet of interim aircraft but the AW139 is our helicopter of choice. We are looking forward to sharing the many benefits that it offers with passengers and the local community.”

Having sold more than 1,150 examples by the end of  2019, Leonardo’s Aw139 continues to go from strength to strength in reaffirming its place as the most successful global helicopter programme of the past 15 years. At last count, more than 280 operators in over 70 countries were operating the type which resulted in a second production line being established to support the one in Vergiate, Italy. Currently, AW139s also roll off the line in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and neither facility shows any signs of slowing production down for the time being. Many customers simply state that for them, the AW139 has no rival.

Wingcopter is finalist for AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards

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Wingcopter has been named a finalist in the XCELLENCE Awards by the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI). The Germany-based manufacturer of autonomous delivery drones was selected from a pool of entries as one of six finalists for the Humanitarian category. The winner will be announced during the keynote session on the 8 October at AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2020 in Dallas, Texas.

“The AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards celebrate the achievements of individuals and organisations who have applied unmanned systems technology to create solutions to address a range of challenges affecting business and society,” said Brian Wynne, President and CEO of AUVSI. “AUVSI is pleased to recognise these finalists for their perseverance and dedication to turn dreams into reality.”

Focused on improving the lives of people worldwide, a significant part of Wingcopter’s projects are of humanitarian nature. Its aircraft can be fitted for long-range delivery of urgently needed medical supplies in areas where infrastructure is poor and traditional means of transport would take too long. Thanks to its patented tilt-rotor mechanism the Wingcopter can take off and land in the smallest areas, while at the same time fly as fast as a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft.

Wingcopter has proven its technology works in various humanitarian projects with missions in the South Pacific island state of Vanuatu, where it set up a drone-based on-demand supply network on behalf of the local Ministry of Health and supported by UNICEF. By delivering vaccines for children to 19 remote health clinics, delivery times could be reduced from several hours or even days to a few minutes. Also in Tanzania and Malawi, Wingcopter was able to prove that drone delivery can drastically shorten patients’ waiting times, especially for urgently needed medicines.

“Being recognised for our humanitarian efforts, something that is deeply rooted in our company DNA encourages us to continue on the path we have chosen. Even though we will expand our activities in parcel and food delivery as well, we will always use our cutting-edge technology for the purpose of saving or improving people’s lives, as we believe that advances in technology should not be a privilege of economically developed societies,” explains Tom Plümmer, Co-Founder and CEO of Wingcopter.

The AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards is for individuals and organisations that are innovators in the unmanned systems industry, with a demonstrated commitment to advancing autonomy, leading and promoting safe adoption of unmanned systems, and developing programs that use these technologies to save lives and improve the human condition.

Italian Air Force aids COVID-19 pandemic

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The Italian Air Force is utilising its Leonardo HH-101A Caesar helicopter for pandemic-response operations in Italy as the country is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Italian Minister of Defence, Lorenzo Guerini also made the AW101 variant available during this emergency.

The Caesar helicopters are operated by crews from Grazzanise Air Base, Cervia Air Base and Specialised Air Force medical team to transport patients with the virus to hospital or medical establishments.

The helicopter will be equipped with an Aircraft Transit Isolator and an insulated stretcher which is designed for bio-containment air transportation. Combining advanced technologies, mission systems and manufactured design, it will offer the largest cabin in its class with stand-up head room and incorporates the latest in vibration reduction technology. It will be able to perform various missions such as search and rescue, personnel recovery, special operations and the interception of slow flying aircraft.

Bristow flying COVID-19 patients

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Bristow Group is flying suspected COVID-19 patients in the North Sea and the Americas.

Three suspected cases have been transported from offshore energy installations in the North Sea since 18 March, as well as acutely-ill offshore workers in the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico, Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana. These operations included delivering test kits to isolated offshore platforms.

Bristow stated that it will continue to support medical evacuation requests to transport potentially ill or confirmed cases.

The missions were carried out by modified aircraft to ensure the necessary separation is provided between flight crew, onboard medic, and passengers. The implementation of physical barriers, protective curtains and airflow systems all adhere to the body substance isolation (BSI) precautions.

Bristow Deputy Area Manager for the Americas, David Jacob stated that “we are currently on track to be the first commercial operator in this region to implement portable, negative pressure isolation stretchers for high-risk transports involving unconsciousness, non-ambulatory, or high-risk infectious disease patients receiving invasive en route care.”

The rotorcraft are decontaminated after every flight and already equipped with aeromedical transport equipment but will potentially have further equipment added to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Jacob added that Bristow Group was prepared to expand the transport of coronavirus patients; “we are ready to help and have the experience to do it the right way and can expand this service to where needed to help battle COVID-19”.

Helicopter Association International remembers Matthew Zuccaro

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Helicopter Association International (HAI) has sadly announced the passing of Matthew S. Zuccaro, the immediate past President and CEO of the association. 

Zuccaro became an HAI member in the early 1980’s and has since moved through the association with his vast knowledge and experience in the aviation industry. He was elected to the HAI Board of Directors in 1987 and served as chairman in 1991. Following that, he was named President of HAI in 2005, working until retirement in January of this year. In the same month he was honoured with the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award at the HAI HELI-EXPO 2020. 

Amongst his many positions with the association, Zuccaro accumulated 50 years of professionalism and pilot skills. One of his largest accomplishments was a column he wrote in ROTOR magazine in 2013, encouraging pilots to land in situations in potentially dangerous situations for passenger and pilot. This led to HAI’s Land & LIVE programme, a long-term campaign to improve safety by reminding pilots to use their aircraft’s capabilities to land at any sign of danger. “A fitting legacy for a man who was passionate about safety in the industry he loved so much.”

Editor’s comment: How far can you go?

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One of the most interesting things about the helicopter industry, as opposed to the fixed wing sector, is what’s called the “technology cycle”. Comparatively, it’s a very, very long ride in the rotary market. It simply comes down to what an operator wants a helicopter to do. It’s a basic requirement. You need a cabin to carry people. How many people? There’s a natural limit of 19, if you go higher you must have a cabin attendant. So, simply put, that’s why the Sikorsky S-92 is stuck at 18-19 seats. This hasn’t stopped the type becoming one of the leading players within the offshore oil and gas industry though.

Of course, radius of operation is always important and as far as the exploration industry is concerned, it’s critical. But in terms of speed, helicopters have come to a natural threshold in terms of development, unless something revolutionary comes into daily service, speeds are unlikely to change significantly anytime soon. Fuel efficiency, well it’s not terribly important, but if you can have less burn for every given gallon it takes us back to the range equation. The key things any operator seeks is safety and reliability, these are what everyone is focused on.

When assessing at the fixed wing market, what it has is fuel efficiency. Each time there’s a new aircraft with an improved engine such as the NEO or MAX there’s a commercial aircraft series that offers better fuel burn. But a helicopter is simply a collection of spare parts, and there’s nothing out there on the current horizon that will replace it. There’s an upside to this, as it means that types such as the AW139, 169, 189 and the H145, 175 are going to be around for a very long time. They may well be modified over the years, but the medium and super-medium classes are here to stay for good.

Two Bell 505s ordered by Simrik Air

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Bell Textron announced that an order for two of its Bell 505 jet Ranger X helicopters has been placed by Nepal’s Simrik Air. The aircraft will be operated by the company on private and corporate charter flights.

“Simrik’s Air purchase of the first two Bell 505s in Nepal is a key milestone for all of us at Bell,” said David Sale, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, bell. “The order is a testament to the confidence that Simrik Air has in the Bell 505 to perform in the most demanding environments. The two Bell 505s, coupled with the two Bell 407GXPs Simrik Air currently operate, will add even more versatility to Simrik Air’s fleet to better serve their customers.”

At present there are 40 Bell 505s operating in the Asian Pacific region supporting a range of industries. These include tourism and charter flights in China, Cambodia and Vietnam and the type is also used as a training type for cadet pilots serving with the Japanese Coast Guard.

Airbus reveals main rotor modification for the AS365 Dauphin

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Airbus Helicopters, as part of its product improvement programme for its AS365 Dauphin has released details on a modification to the Main Rotor Actuator from Goodrich to avoid intermittent seizing alerts, while improving its reliability.

The intermittent issue has been highlighted following analytical reports which showed a significant ratio of removals due to seizing alerts of the distributor. This was traced to the degradation of a weld on a printed circuit board.

The repair of the Main Rotor Actuator has to completed by an approved repair centre. Currently, Airbus Helicopters is offering a special price and lead time for this specific modification through its network.