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  • Bell Opens New Manufacturing Tech Center in Texas
    by Mark Huber on August 10, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    Bell's manufacturing technology center is a roadmap to future factories. August 10, 2020, 1:00 PMBell unveiled its new 140,000-sq-ft manufacturing technology center (MTC) in Fort Worth, Texas, on Monday. While the immediate plan of the MTC is to show the Army that Bell is capable of economically building future rotorcraft at scale and rate, company executives said the facility would also be used to transform manufacturing throughout the organization.  “The MTC is the next step in successfully deploying new manufacturing technologies and processes into Bell’s future factories,” said Bell v-p of rapid prototyping and manufacturing innovation Glenn Isbell. “These future factories, working together with our teammates and suppliers, will be designed to enable high-quality, high-rate production” of future models, including the V-280 tiltrotor and Invictus 360, should Bell win Army programs to build those aircraft. Bell will use the MTC to test and refine technologies and processes required to build and support those and other aircraft, including the Nexus urban air mobility vehicle, according to the company. Facility capabilities span core manufacturing of rotor and drive systems, infrastructure, and final assembly. By deploying a networked software infrastructure, the MTC will produce a digital twin of itself that gives everyone a common operating picture of the building, equipment, and processes. The facility will be monitored and controlled by network IT, internet of things, and cybersecurity systems that manage factory material flow and activity. Aerospace

  • Bell Opens Wichita Facility
    by Mark Huber on August 9, 2020 at 3:59 am

    Bell's new Wichita facility was previously occupied by sister company Textron Aviation. August 8, 2020, 11:27 PMBell officially opened its new Wichita facility last week in building C-5, which is a space previously occupied by certain engineering resources of sister company Textron Aviation. Bell is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. The company said its Wichita outpost will support multiple programs and business areas, including engineering, supply chain, manufacturing, and corporate services.  “I look forward to seeing Bell contribute to our strong aviation industry as a defense and commercial leader,” said U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), a member of the Senate’s defense appropriations subcommittee. Bell is a finalist on the Army’s future long-range assault aircraft (FLRAA) and future attack and reconnaissance aircraft (FARA) programs with its V-280 Valor tiltrotor and Invictus 360 helicopter, respectively. The programs have a potential combined value of more than $60 billion with aircraft deliveries expected to begin by 2028 for FARA and 2030 for FLRAA. Bell’s announcement follows a report in May from the Center for Strategic and International Studies that suggested that whichever OEM is selected to manufacture the new aircraft, Bell or Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky unit (in partnership with Boeing on FLRAA), could encounter second-tier supplier problems and may need to bring more work on the aircraft in-house.  Aerospace

  • Leonardo Breaks Ground on Temp Facility in Florida
    by Mark Huber on August 6, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Leonardo broke ground this week on its U.S. Navy TH-73A temporary support facility at the Peter Prince Airport in Milton, FL.August 6, 2020, 3:29 PMLeonardo broke ground this week on its U.S. Navy TH-73A temporary support facility at the Peter Prince Airport (2R4) in Milton, Florida. The facility will house modular office, warehouse, and hangar space and support deliveries and maintenance as the first new training helicopters are sent to the Navy’s nearby NAS Whiting Field from Leonardo’s Philadelphia plant. Construction on a permanent facility at the 269-acre Whiting Aviation Park is awaiting expected funding from Triumph Gulf Coast, a non-profit corporation funded by BP’s economic damage payments to Florida in relation to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In September 2019, Leonardo announced that it would build a 100,000-sq-ft Part 145 repair station facility for the helicopters in partnership with the Santa Rosa County Economic Development Office and Space Florida if it won the Navy training contract. Leonardo was awarded that contract in January and could potentially deliver 130 aircraft under its terms. Through a limited-access use agreement between Santa Rosa County and the U.S. Navy, tenants of Whiting Aviation Park will be able to use the Navy’s airfield facilities for aircraft transfers, which will reduce service time. General Aviation

  • Air Ambulances Successfully Navigating Covid Skies
    by Mark Huber on August 5, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the air ambulance industry is holding its own—for now.August 5, 2020, 12:15 PMAmid the Covid-19 pandemic, the air ambulance industry is holding its own—for now. While the sector has had to make some adjustments due to the pandemic, it seems to be avoiding the types of economic pain that have afflicted other parts of the aviation industry.  Metro Aviation is reporting an uptick in patient transports that includes 500 Covid-19 patients through the end of July. The company provides aircraft and flight personnel for mostly hospital-based programs. Spokesperson Kristen King Holmes told AIN that Metro “is fortunate enough to be in a position that allowed us to maintain operations during the pandemic without reducing our fleet or laying off employees.” She said Metro reacted quickly to the pandemic, forming a Covid advisory panel, developing proper aircraft sanitation and crew PPE procedures, and hosting regular calls with customers to provide updates and share best practices. “It gives our customers across the country a chance to share their experiences and find out how others are responding to the pandemic,” Holmes said. “We also have a customer forum that was in place before Covid-19 that has seen continuous activity from our customers.” Metro created a landing page on its website to provide news and updates related to the virus. The company is continuing to respond to RFPs from potential new customers. While Metro did have to cancel its leadership education, advancement, and development (LEAD) seminar, an annual retreat for operations customers, and other seminars and meetings for communications specialists, pilots, and technicians, Holmes said the company “quickly pivoted to provide other channels of communication.”  Air Methods has seen its flight hours decrease 9 percent year over year but has not had any Covid-19-related layoffs, base closures, or fleet reductions. While the company has transported an estimated 2,000 Covid patients, it has not specially modified any of its aircraft to deal with the pandemic. However, company spokesman Doug Flanders said that Air Methods follows Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines related to crew PPE and aircraft decontamination and will transport a Covid-positive or suspected positive patient only if “it is safe for our crews to do so.” Additionally, transport data is collected on every transport to ensure the effectiveness of policies and procedures, and adjustments are made if the data and the company’s safety management system (SMS) process warrant it.  Thanks to agreements with some of the nation’s largest health insurers, Flanders said, over 50 percent of Air Methods’ transports are now in-network. “Our goal is to be in-network with 100 percent,” he said. However, insurers Aetna, Cigna, and United Health have yet to sign agreements. Flanders said that Air Methods, “in an effort to remove the patient from the process, is proactively signing agreements directly with employers” that use these insurance carriers to “ensure that their employees have coverage for emergency air medical services.”  Industrywide, the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) reports that its members have conducted over 10,000 Covid patient transports through July. So far, it has no reports from members of widespread pandemic-generated layoffs, base closures, or hospital to community-based business model shifts, but Chris Eastlee, the association’s v-p for government affairs, points out that the cost of transports, along with other medical services, has increased due to the implementation of Covid-related protocols and precautions. And that, coupled with Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that are below costs, could spell trouble for the industry down the road. He said federal relief received by the industry from the CARES Act is not sufficient to cover the reimbursement gap. Eastlee said that Medicaid reimbursements were particularly egregious in some states, amounting to as little as $200 per transport. He also noted that while some of the association’s members have had success negotiating in-network agreements with insurers, patients are “in a terrible position” when such agreements are absent. Eastlee said AAMS and its industry partners are lobbying Congress to prioritize emergency medical services in any future Covid aid packages.  General Aviation

  • USAIG Safety Bucks Fully Cover Airbus Helo IIMC Course
    by Mark Huber on August 4, 2020 at 3:31 pm

    Aircraft insurer USAIG customers can now use their $2,500 Safety Bucks To Cover Airbus Helicopters' IIMC Course. August 4, 2020, 11:25 AMAircraft insurer USAIG customers can now use their $2,500 Safety Bucks certificate to fully cover the cost of the inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC) course offered by Airbus Helicopters’ North America (AHNA) training center in Grand Prairie, Texas. The offer applies to courses booked by the end of this year and started by July 1, 2021. The course normally costs $3,900. “We believe the IIMC course is a must-have for any helicopter pilot,” said Lindsay Cunningham, head of customer training for AHNA. “And this limited-time offer is a great way for operators who are USAIG policyholders to benefit from the course while deriving maximum advantage from their Safety Bucks.”  USAIG started the Safety Bucks program in the 1990s to incentivize policyholders to make recurrent helicopter simulator training standard practice. It was later expanded to include helicopter maintenance technician training and some in-aircraft training activities. In 2015, it was integrated into USAIG’s broader Performance Vector safety initiative, which provides a variety of safety services from which eligible policyholders can make one annual selection. The AHNA Training Center, in partnership with Helisim, provides courses and simulator training for the Airbus Helicopters AS350, EC135, and EC145 models and will soon add a new level-D H145 full-flight simulator. General Aviation

  • One in Five S-92 Helicopters Parked
    by Mark Huber on August 3, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    Some 39 Sikorsky S-92s, comprising 19 percent of the global market, remain parked during the downturn. August 3, 2020, 10:32 AMWhile the offshore helicopter market is showing signs of recovery, 39 Sikorsky S-92s, comprising 19 percent of the global market, remain parked. Among the active fleet, flying hours are down 27 percent. Those are among the findings from the most recent “S-92 Fleet Census” from Air & Sea Analytics.  The report notes that offshore helicopter services companies Babcock, Bristow, CHC, and Lider are returning aircraft to lessors against the backdrop of one-quarter of the world’s mobile offshore oil rigs being scrapped since 2015. Nevertheless, Air & Sea Analytics director Steve Robertson said, “Relative to other [oil field services] segments, we’d argue it’s [the S-92] one of the best performing over the last 12 months.” But he acknowledged that many owners and operators are “having a rough time.” The largest concentration of based S-92s continues to be in the UK, with 41, but of that number only 29 are active.   Nevertheless, glimmers of hope remain. GECAS helicopter leasing unit Milestone Aviation is adding to its S-92 fleet, already the world’s largest, and finding placements for them. The overall count of heavies and super-mediums has increased slightly, from 214 to 224, a function of increased deliveries of the latter to offshore operators. The report found that “super-medium units continue to be delivered and find work in the market.” And at least two operators, Cougar and Chevron, are increasing their overall fleet size. General Aviation

  • GECAS Slashes Milestone's Value by $729M
    by Mark Huber on July 31, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    GECAS has written down the value of its Milestone Aviation helicopter leasing unit by $729 million.July 31, 2020, 7:58 AMThe continuing decimation of the depressed offshore helicopter market writ large anew earlier this week when GECAS wrote down the value of its Milestone Aviation helicopter leasing unit by $729 million. Milestone holds the world’s largest fleet of Sikorsky S-92 heavy helicopters, used primarily in support of the offshore energy market. The write-down was revealed this week in GECAS parent GE’s second-quarter 2020 10Q SEC filing in the form of a goodwill impairment. It represents a 41 percent devaluation of the $1.775 billion GECAS paid to acquire Milestone in 2015.   Milestone was founded by former NetJets chief Richard Santulli in 2010 with an initial capitalization of $500 million and based in Dublin, Ireland. It would go on to draw substantial investment from global financial powerhouses, including Lloyds, Barclays, and Lombard, the asset finance division of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Milestone built one of the world’s largest helicopter lease fleets that over the course of its first five years grew to 168 aircraft valued at $2.8 billion. It was quickly joined in the market space by a variety of new competitors, including Waypoint Leasing, LCI Aviation, Lobo Leasing, and Macquarie Rotorcraft Leasing. The fallout from the 2008 recession and tumbling oil prices has had a lasting overhang on the offshore helicopter business, triggering a crescendo of bankruptcies and consolidations among operators and lessors in recent years. General Aviation

  • Pandemic Pounds New Helicopter Deliveries
    by Mark Huber on July 30, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    While deliveries of new civil helicopters collapsed, OEMs were buoyed by their military business. July 30, 2020, 2:05 PMCivil new helicopter deliveries plunged during the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic, but financial results released this week indicate that the three leading helicopter OEMs were buoyed by increased military sales.  Airbus Helicopters saw orders and revenues drop during the first six months, results its parent company largely attributed to the impact of Covid-19. Bookings for the period amounted to 75, down from 123 from the year-ago period, a 39 percent decline. The overall order book shrank by four percent from 697 to 666 units. Revenues declined by two percent, to $2.75 billion. However, EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) rose by 23 percent to $179 million, which the company attributed to a more favorable delivery mix skewed toward military helicopters and increased services revenues. Airbus noted two new EASA product certifications during the period: the five-bladed H145 D3 and the H160 intermediate twin. For the second quarter, revenues fell 17 percent from the year-ago period, to $1.54 billion, from $1.61 billion. Adjusted EBIT declined to $117 million, from 130 million, a drop of 10 percent.  Separately, on Thursday Textron unit Bell and Italy’s Leonardo also reported results. Like Airbus, Bell reported fewer commercial deliveries for the quarter from the year-ago period, down to 27 from 53, largely due to dramatically lower deliveries of the model 505 light single and delivery difficulties attributed to pandemic travel restrictions. Bell’s military business however drove a 7 percent revenue increase to $822 million from $771 million and propelled profits to $118 million, a $15 million gain over second-quarter 2019. Bell’s revenues and profits were also up for the first half of the year compared to the first half of 2019; first-half 2020 revenues rose 6.6 percent to $1.645 billion from $1.510 billion and profits increased to $233 million from $207 million. Order backlog stood at $5.8 billion. On the military side, Bell delivered 13 H-1 aircraft in the first half, up from 11 from the year-ago period, and eight V-22 tiltrotors, up from three last year. However, deliveries of civil models were down sharply in the first half compared to the same period last year: 17 Bell 505s as opposed to 48; 14 Model 407s compared to 21; and two 412s versus four in the first six months of 2019. Bell did increase its year-over-year deliveries of its 429 light twin, up one from the eight it handed over last year. Scott Donnelly, CEO of Bell parent Textron, said the outlook for reduced deliveries of Bell’s 505 light single was a factor of the typical customer for that model, “a high-net-worth individual making a discretionary spend.” But Donnelly said he expected deliveries of the company’s other commercial models to be more stable as the dominant customer base for those trend toward parapublic and air ambulance customers.  Leonardo Helicopters saw a 50 percent drop in first-half deliveries year-over-year. “For civil helicopters, demand will not get back to 2019 levels for some time,” said company CFO Alessandra Genco. During the first six months of 2020 Leonardo delivered 30 helicopters, down from 61 from the same period last year. Deliveries of the AW139 intermediate twin fell from 26 to 14, the AW169 medium twin from 15 to three, the AW189 from four to two, and the AW109/119 family from eight to seven. For primarily military models including the AW159/Lynx, the NH90, and the AW101, deliveries remained nearly flat with the group accounting for six deliveries in the first half as opposed to eight over the same span last year. Leonardo's first-half revenues fell 10.7 percent, to $2 billion, and were off 8.6 percent, to $1.17 billion, in the second quarter. Earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization (EBITA) fell by 30.5 percent, from $237 million in first-half 2019 to $164.5 million in the current period. However, orders spiked by 48 percent, to $3 billion in the first half, driven by military programs including the U.S. Navy’s TH-73A trainer. Leonardo Helicopters saw its percentage of military/government revenues increase from 72 to 74 percent in the first six months compared to a year ago. Business Aviation

  • Guimbal Cabri Helicopters Remotely Serviced by Precision
    by Mark Huber on July 27, 2020 at 10:42 pm

    Precision Support Services has competed multiple remote inspections of Guimbal Cabri helicopters. July 27, 2020, 6:39 PMPrecision Support Services announced today the completion of multiple remote annual inspections on Guimbal Cabri light helicopters. Oregon-based Precision operates a Part 145 facility in McMinnville and is the exclusive North American distributor for the Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter components and the sole distributor for new aircraft in the U.S. The group completed the remote maintenance on two Cabri G2s in Texas and California. The Texas client, Kapa Air, required 100-hour and annual inspections while Los Angeles-based Anthelion Helicopters needed an annual and 500-hour inspection, the most comprehensive required on the G2. In addition to the required inspections, several upgrades were installed. “Despite the inherent challenges of remote maintenance, especially during Covid-19, both projects were completed on time,” said Precision general manager Grayson Barrows. “With no mobilization for the aircraft and minimal downtime, both operators were able to get the aircraft back into service very quickly.” In addition to selling and servicing Cabris, Precision operates Bell and Airbus model helicopters for the U.S. Forest Service and offers charter, utility, external lift, and tour operations. The company also operates unmanned programs for commercial interests, wildlife and environmental preservation bodies, humanitarian and disaster relief/emergency response organizations, USG national defense, intelligence, and Homeland Security entities. Business Aviation

  • HeliValue$: 'The Worst Helicopter Market in 40 Years'
    by Mark Huber on July 27, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    Used helicopter values sink under the pressures of pandemic, cheap oil, and scarce credit. July 27, 2020, 6:14 PM“It’s the worst helicopter market in 40 years.” That’s the blunt appraisal of Jason Kmiecik, president of aircraft pricing specialist HeliValue$, who told AIN that second-quarter 2020 transactions were down “drastically” from the first quarter. The leader of the rotorcraft appraisal and consulting firm blamed the plunge on a terrible trifecta of industry troubles, including Covid-19 pandemic proliferation, collapsing oil prices, and evaporating operator credit. “There’s just a lot of bad things going on. It’s a bad time for everybody,” he said. Nevertheless, Kmiecik said there are some bright spots in a market that is otherwise a miasma of disappointment. Offshore operators could soon be saddled with fewer parked helicopters due to a series of new tenders floated by energy companies, a move that would benefit the values of large helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-92 and Airbus EC225. Kmiecik said that helicopter lessor Milestone, with an eye toward future market recovery, already had taken advantage of depressed large helicopter prices to snap up several S-92s. GECAS unit Milestone already owns the world’s largest S-92 fleet. Last month, Brazil’s Petrobras oil conglomerate launched four tenders in support of its exploration in the Campos and Santos basins. Previous new tenders this year have come from diverse locations such as Angola, Nigeria, Norway, and the UK North Sea. Additionally, more of Europe is turning to private helicopter companies to provide search and rescue services, with tenders pending in Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK for contracts that will begin as early as next year. The UK is looking to address closer to shore needs with its UKSAR2G program.   Older generation intermediate twins such as the Bell 412 and Airbus EC155 and AS365 models are still seeing their values crushed as the Leonardo AW139 continues to be the aircraft of choice in that market, Kmiecik said. However, even the values of AW139s have not been unscathed by this market, he added.  On the other hand, smaller helicopters, such as the Airbus EC135 and EC145 twins are holding their values well. Buyers are paying premiums in the face of increasing demand for used models of the type from air ambulance operators, who are responding to the increasing need for transport from rural areas with larger and more capable aircraft. The ubiquitous Airbus single, the AS350/H125 also is holding its value, Kmiecik said, but the original incarnation of its larger sibling, the EC130B4, is not as it is facing aging aircraft issues. Values for MD Helicopters series 500 singles are relatively strong in the face of short supply, as production of civil variants has all but evaporated as a consequence of that company’s ongoing success with foreign military sales.  Nevertheless, from the perspective of HeliValue$, it firmly remains “a buyer’s market,” with purchasers in many instances offering depressed prices as they grapple with large unknowns.  “Buyers are being very cautious because of the uncertainty of what could happen three years from now,” Kmiecik said.  General Aviation

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