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  • Outlerlink Adds Analytics To IRIS
    by Mark Huber on November 6, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Outlerlink is adding cloud-based analytics to its IRIS aircraft monitoring system.November 6, 2019, 12:03 PMOuterlink has added a cloud-based flight analytics system for its IRIS combined voice, video, and flight-data monitoring system. IRIS provides military-style situational awareness by providing an uninterrupted connection, constant communication, and push-to-talk VOIP (voice over internet protocol) radio, enabling operators to communicate with one aircraft or an entire fleet worldwide.  The cloud service gives users access to critical flight data and organizes pre-defined events in clear formats, allowing operators to prioritize data points used to identify trends and training opportunities. In addition to the cloud launch, IRIS recently received several additional updates including improved push-to-talk voice quality, better side-tone, greater internal battery reliability, and a reduction of approximately 30 percent in data usage via more efficient protocols. Over the last year, Outerlink has sold and installed 77 IRIS systems, including 100 percent of the fleet of parent company Metro Aviation, which has seen “exponential gains” in reliability. Other air medical programs, including Phoenix Heli-Flight, Avera McKennan, and Boston Medflight also use IRIS. More than 300 IRIS units have been sold worldwide.  General Aviation

  • Life Flight Orders Eight New Bells
    by Mark Huber on November 5, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    U.S. HEMS provider Life Flight Network has ordered eight new Bell helicopters. November 5, 2019, 3:44 PMThe Life Flight Network has agreed to purchase four Bell 429 light twins and four Bell 407GXi singles to add to its existing helicopter EMS fleet, Bell announced Tuesday. Life Flight will use the helicopters to service portions of its network that include 31 bases throughout the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West. The company is the largest nonprofit air medical transport service in the U.S. “These aircraft will ensure we are there when our communities and patients need us,” said Life Flight Network CEO Michael Griffiths. “We have an unyielding commitment to safety, quality, and excellence, and these Bell aircraft meet our standards.”  Bell began deliveries of the 407GXi last year. It features the Garmin G1000H NXi integrated flight deck and a new Rolls-Royce M250-C47E/4 engine with dual-channel Fadec that delivers better high/hot performance, full automatic relight, and the ability to cruise at 133 knots. The G1000H NXi has high-definition displays and faster processors with increased brightness and clarity, faster startup, and maps, while the Garmin Flight Stream 510 allows pilots to upload flight plans from devices and Garmin SurfaceWatch provides runway identification and alerting technology. The 429 was certified in 2009 and in the ensuing decade Bell has made numerous improvements to the helicopter. General Aviation

  • First U.S. AW169 HEMS Fleet Operational
    by Mark Huber on November 5, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    Travis County, Texas Star Flight is operating three Leonardo AW169s configured for HEMS and SAR. November 5, 2019, 2:56 PMThe first fleet of Leonardo AW169 helicopters in the United States to be configured for EMS and search-and-rescue is now in service. Travis County’s (Texas) Star Flight began operating its third AW169 medium twin earlier this year in south-central Texas, an area notorious for flash flooding and with a population of more than 1.2 million, including Austin. Star Flight’s AW169s are equipped for 24/7 operations. Missions include emergency medical transport, still- and swift-water rescue, search-and-rescue, high-angle rescue, fire suppression/aerial reconnaissance, and law-enforcement safety assistance. Star Flight also transports neonatal, pediatric ICU, and high-risk obstetrics medical teams and patients. The cabins are configured to transport up to two patients and five medical personnel. Each of Star Flight’s AW169s is also equipped with a rescue hoist and a 300-gallon Simplex belly tank for fire suppression. The AW169 has a maximum range of 440 nm and cruises at 160 knots. Standard avionics include four-axis, dual-duplex digital automatic flight control, and a night-vision-compatible cockpit. More than 200 AW169s have been ordered worldwide, including from parapublic customers in the United Kingdom, Japan, Republic of Korea, and New Zealand. Business Aviation

  • Offshore Helicopter Market Sees Some Sign of Recovery
    by Charles Alcock on November 5, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    Demand for offshore helicopter services is improving, but it could take more time for contract rates to improve for operators November 5, 2019, 11:35 AMProspects for recovery in the market for offshore oil and gas helicopter support market are gathering pace, although it may take more time for this to be reflected in improved profit margins for operators. This was the main conclusion of independent market analysis presented at the Vertical Flight Expo event on November 5 by Steve Robertson, director of the Air & Sea Analytics consultancy. His presentation largely matched that of a panel discussion earlier in the day at the same Farnborough, UK event. “The near-term outlook is that there will be continued growth in the offshore oil and gas sector from now until around 2024,” Robertson said. “Higher oil prices will eventually lead to better commercial terms of helicopter operators, but for now it remains a very competitive market as [oil and gas] companies remain very cautious [about costs] due to price volatility.” According to data collected by Air & Sea Analytics, in the 24-month period between August 2017 and 2019, the number of aircraft flying in the offshore oil and gas sector increased by 18 percent, with an additional 31 aircraft being added to the fleet. Beyond more mature markets like the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the company sees demand for helicopter service rising fastest in places such as Guyana, Suriname, Senegal, the eastern Mediterranean Sea, southern and east Africa, and Asia. The company's data also shows Europe-based NHV moving up from eighth to fifth place in the ranks of offshore helicopter operators. Bristow Group remains in the top spot, followed by CHC, PHI and Babcock International. Business Aviation

  • Helicopter Market Turning Corner at Last, Say Pundits
    by Ian Sheppard on November 5, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    Speakers at Vertical Flight Expo heard that after ten turbulent years, the helicopter market could be recovering from the oil price downturn.November 5, 2019, 9:05 AMAfter reeling from being virtually abandoned by the oil and gas sector after oil plummeted to $30 a barrel in early 2016, the helicopter market appears to have turned the corner and hourly operating prices are now reflecting a recovery, industry observers said today at the opening of the Vertical Flight Expo & Conference at Farnborough Airport. Even though exploration is now picking up again in the oil and gas sector, profits for helicopter operators are still very limited, they added. The panel discussion centered mainly on changes in demand and supply, with several comments pointing to better times ahead. Panel moderator Sara Dhariwal, valuations analyst at Ascend by Cirium, reflected that everyone had been caught out and that the contagion had spread through the market. Asked whether there was still too much capacity in the market, panelist Clark McGinn, principal of Uplifting Advice, noted that in various regions there were too many big operators with an “overhang of equipment.” “We have been through an unprecedented downturn so it’s up to us to encourage people back in,” said McGinn, asked about the mood of financiers on the market. He suggested that many deals had failed to materialize by “more bad news” along the way, such as North Sea crashes, but the panelists agreed that having financiers and lessors helping the industry develop was a good thing—even if terms were tougher to negotiate these days. Alastair Fallon, aviation analyst with IBA Group, reflected it had been “a slow recovery” after the oil shock that started in 2014, which saw 20 percent to 30 percent of the helicopter fleet become surplus. “But we’re kind of getting there.” He noted how it affected the whole industry as contracts weren’t renewed and helicopters had to find new homes. “A third of the fleet wasn’t needed anymore when the market collapsed…that had never happened before,” McGinn said. Alix Leboulanger, a research associate with Avascent, said operators had been looking at diversifying their activities into construction and other areas. For example, she said Airbus “managed to recycle some [Pumas] to the military.” A key theme that came out of the session was that the new medium-heavy helicopters that are coming to the market, such as the Bell 525 and Airbus H160, could struggle as they are unproven and there are still many used large helicopters available. Leboulanger suggested the French military taking the H160 would help it become a proven airframe, but clearly the panelists agreed that after safety issues—most notably with the Airbus H225 accidents—many are wary of new types. Also, as McGinn pointed out, “The procurement guys [at operators] want to pay old prices for new types.” The final point was that OEMs and operators could help the market by making helicopters more easily reconfigurable for new roles—the cost of converting an oil and gas large helicopter being prohibitive. McGinn gave as an example the Airbus H225s deployed in Africa, which was possible only because they had been ordered with the ability to fit sand filters. While lessor Waypoint had ordered this option and its aircraft benefited from it, competitor Milestone would have faced a $600,000 to $700,000 cost per airframe to retrofit these filters. General Aviation

  • Blade Per-seat Helicopter Service Comes To L.A. Market
    by Mark Huber on November 4, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    Helicopter per seat ride share booking service Blade is expanding into the Los Angeles metro area market. November 4, 2019, 12:09 PMPer-seat helicopter booking service Blade is expanding into the Los Angeles metro market, with service between downtown and the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Westside, Orange County, and Burbank, the company announced late last week. Blade said flights to downtown Los Angeles will be scheduled for hockey and basketball games, marquee concerts, and other events at the Staples Center. Prices begin at $195 per passenger. Blade’s L.A. operations use Airbus H130s and will follow noise abatement routes, altitudes, and best practices, the company said. “The H130 is the perfect aircraft for this type of mission thanks to its comfort, efficiency, and environmental standards, as it's the quietest in its class,” said Romain Trapp, president of Airbus Helicopters, Inc. Airbus Helicopters is an investor in Blade.  “Since expanding our continuous flight service in Manhattan and San Francisco, we are seeing faster-than-expected adoption by people choosing to fly rather than drive,” said Blade West Coast general manager Shivani Parikh. “Los Angeles is at the forefront of embracing multi-modality transportation options.” Similar to Blade service at New York’s JFK airport, Los Angeles customers can opt to be escorted on the tarmac from the helicopter to their American Airlines flight (and vice versa) with that carrier’s Five Star Service, which can be purchased via the Blade app or website by choosing “American add-on.” General Aviation

  • Airbus Studying Obscurant Defense for H145M
    by David Donald on November 4, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    The rapid-action “fog” screen has been successfully implemented for military vehicles and is now being proposed for helicoptersNovember 4, 2019, 11:58 AMAirbus Helicopters is working on a concept to add an obscuration system to the H145M utility military helicopter to provide an added level of protection during critical battlefield operations. This kind of system is already deployed to protect battlefield vehicles, but as far as is known Airbus is the first to propose it for helicopters. The company outlined the scheme, which has already undergone feasibility trials, during a November 4 media briefing at Airbus’s Donauwörth facility in southern Germany. The system deploys from dispensers distributed around the helicopter, rapidly creating a “fence of fog” around it. The smokescreen not only obscures the vehicle from visual sight but also has infrared-screening properties. The system is intended to provide added protection during operations such as fast-roping or landing special forces in contested drop zones, when the helicopter is temporarily stationary, either on the ground or in the hover. The use of the system would, by definition, also obscure the visibility of the helicopter crew and could be safely employed only if the crew has sufficient enhanced and synthetic vision systems to operate in DVE (degraded visual environment) conditions. To assess the feasibility of the concept, Airbus has conducted tests using the Rheinmetall ROSY rapid obscuring system that is deployed on land and marine platforms. In the trials the ROSY was fired from the ground while an H145M flew into the fog screen and hovered within it. The trials concluded that the screen maintained a good level of protection for a sufficient duration to offload troops, before it was dissipated by the helicopter’s downwash. Airborne tests will be undertaken to further assess the system’s effectiveness on rotary-wing platforms. The obscuring system is one of a number of improvements under active consideration for the H145M, others including the addition of radar warning receivers to the current missile warning sensors to add electronic protection to the defensive suite. Furthermore, the H145M is likely to gain heat-diffusing exhausts that deflect the hot gases upwards into the main rotor wash to reduce infrared signature. The company has also conducted manned-unmanned teaming trials using an H145M working with a Schiebel S-100 Camcopter and is due to undertake a second round of trials soon. Airbus expects to certify the five-blade main rotor upgrade for the military H145M in the second quarter of 2021, a year after its H145 civilian counterpart, and future orders will all be of this configuration. It reduces weight, increases performance and payload, and reduces vibration levels thanks to a hingeless main rotor. The five-blade system is available as a retrofit, with a 220-hour/15-day downtime to complete the upgrade. Since the helicopter gained EASA certification in May 2015, Airbus Helicopters has sold 51 of the H145M military version, including 15 for launch customer Germany, which employs the type on special forces support duties. The Royal Thai Navy ordered five for maritime special operations, while Serbia has bought the H145M for its air force (six) and police (three). Hungary has ordered 20, and Luxembourg two. Those for Hungary and the Serbian air force are equipped with the HForce weaponization kit. As of November 2019, 24 had been delivered, including all the German and Thai orders. Defense

  • Bristow Out Of Bankruptcy
    by Mark Huber on November 4, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Bristow restructured with new capital and board of directors. November 4, 2019, 11:15 AMBristow Group officially emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last week with $535 million in new capital and a new board of directors with extensive experience in energy, finance, and helicopter businesses. The company filed for bankruptcy in May, claiming debts of $1.885 billion against assets of $2.86 billion and citing “previously disclosed financial challenges” and “constrained liquidity.”   L. Don Miller, who was appointed Bristow CEO in February 2019 and guided it through the bankruptcy process, will remain in his current office and a member of the company’s board. Other board members include Aris Kekedjian (chairman), Wesley E. Kern, Robert J. Manzo, Lorin L. Brass, G. Mark Mickelson, Brian D. Truelove, and Hooman Yazhari. Former Bristow director Ian A. Godden will continue as chairman of Bristow Aviation Holding Limited, Bristow's UK affiliate, and serve in an advisory role to Bristow. Miller said the restructured Bristow is “committed to further building on our global leadership role in offshore oil and gas transportation and search and rescue” and will “remain focused on being 'best in class' for all our stakeholders, particularly our employees, customers, and new owners as we continue to look for ways to drive innovation and efficiencies across the global business.” General Aviation

  • Crashed Korean H225 Had Recent Maintenance
    by Mark Huber on November 4, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    A Korean Airbus H225 that crashed into the East Sea had a heavy inspection in October. November 4, 2019, 7:15 AMThe Airbus Helicopters H225 that crashed off the South Korean coast late last Thursday night had recently been returned to service after completing a 1,000-hour heavy inspection.  None of the seven occupants aboard survived when the H225, operated by the country’s 119 rescue service, crashed after lifting off with an injured fisherman from the islet of Dokdo, located in the East Sea 117 nautical miles off the South Korean coast. VFR, but moonless, conditions and light winds were reported at the time. The accident helicopter entered service in 2016 and is one of two operated by 119. It has two more H225s on order from Airbus and also operates a pair of smaller Airbus AS365 N2s. The two-pilot flight crew was described by multiple sources as highly experienced.     Witnesses to the accident said the helicopter crashed within two to three minutes of departing the helipad at approximately 11:30 p.m. local time and that it was flying erratically at a low altitude. The wreckage was located Friday afternoon on the seabed at a depth of 230 feet and pulled to the surface on Sunday. Photos published this morning by the Yonhap news agency show the helicopter’s rotorhub attached to the main wreckage, but substantial cabin damage. The cockpit and tailboom are not attached.  On Friday South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered safety inspections of all H225s in the country. It was not immediately clear if the order also applied to the country’s large fleet of more than 90 KAI KUH-1 Surions, a locally-produced variant of the Airbus AS332 L2 used by South Korean defense and police forces.  The H225 and the AS322 L2 are both members of the Airbus Super Puma family and share a variety of common components. Past safety grounding orders regarding the H225, most notably in the wake of the fatal crash of one near Turoy, Norway, in 2016, also have been applied to the AS322 L2. In the Turoy crash, a fracture in one of the main gearbox’s second-stage planet gears caused the rotorhub and the main rotors to depart the aircraft in flight. The related grounding was lifted after Airbus re-sourced and replaced the problem part and devised a heightened replacement and inspection regime.  The Turoy crash substantially undermined market confidence in the H225, with at least one North Sea offshore oil workers union, Unite, gathering 10,000 signatures in support of permanently grounding the helicopter. A 2017 survey conducted by Airbus found that 62 percent of respondents would not fly on it. In October of that year, Guillaume Faury, then CEO of Airbus Helicopters (now CEO of Airbus), told reporters, “It takes time to restore trust after these accidents,” after he stepped off an H225 publicity flight in London. Behind the scenes, Airbus negotiated multimillion-dollar settlements with H225 operators and leasing companies who were adversely impacted by the groundings, loss of customer confidence in the helicopter, and a dramatic plunge in the market value of their H225s. Altogether, H225 operators took hundreds of millions of dollars in H225-related write downs.   Earlier this year, prospects for the H225 appeared to be improving, with a limited number of used models moving again on what had been a moribund market for the helicopter. In September, Airbus celebrated the delivery of its 1,000th Super Puma. However, fresh safety concerns about the H225 re-emerged just last month when EASA issued an emergency airworthiness directive requiring the replacement of certain module bevel gears in the helicopter’s Safran Makila 2A and 2A1 turboshaft engines (EASA AD #2019-0247-E) following a reported in-flight engine shutdown.  General Aviation

  • Rogue Drones Impede California Firefighters
    by Mark Huber on November 3, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Illegal drone flights California forced firefighting helicopters to stand down. November 3, 2019, 8:30 AMCalifornia authorities complained over the weekend that illegally operated recreational drones interfered with their efforts to suppress the recent spate of wildfires there, forcing helicopter tankers to stand down on several occasions for 30 to 40 minutes per incident. Early Friday morning, helicopters flying on the Maria fire near Santa Paula were grounded after a pilot of a Ventura County fire department helicopter reported unauthorized drones in the area. Later in the day, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub reminded recreational drone pilots who fly on fires that they are violating federal law and face stiff penalties for doing so.  Specifically, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 43 CFR 9212.1(f), states it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire. Flying drones on fires also violates numerous state laws. Through October, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported 19 separate incidents of illegal drones flying on fires in 2019. The NIFC reminds drone pilots, “hobbyist drones and firefighting aircraft don't mix” and create a variety of safety and operational issues when firefighting aircraft need to stand down. “This prolongs firefighting operations; in many cases, wildfires become larger when aircraft are not able to drop fire retardant, water, monitor wildfires from above, or provide tactical information to firefighters.” Conversely, more fire departments are turning to drones as firefighting tools, leveraging the ability of onboard sensors and cameras to map, track, identify hot spots, and locate trapped victims. In August, Appleton, Wisconsin-based Pierce Manufacturing, a producer of fire engines and related equipment, unveiled a specialized, self-piloting firefighting drone that can fly tethered from a fire truck. The “Situational Awareness System” provides aerial and thermal imagery and can be hard-wired to the host vehicle, eliminating concerns about battery life and the need for a licensed operator. Pierce is just one of several companies offering a tethered drone tailored for firefighting intelligence. Another company, Aerones, has developed a large, tethered drone with 28 motors and 16 batteries that can spray water on fires up to 948 feet agl and lift up to 441 pounds. General Aviation

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