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  • Helicopter Business Leaders Open the Door to eVTOLs
    by Charles Alcock on March 24, 2023 at 1:03 pm

    Speakers at this week's Helicopter Investor conference mainly see advanced air mobility technology as part of their future, but with some caveats.March 24, 2023, 8:29 AMRotorcraft industry leaders addressing the Helicopter Investor conference this week in London expressed measured optimism over prospects for the emerging advanced air mobility sector. There was consensus that new eVTOL aircraft will start to be used for some current helicopter use cases, albeit most speakers expressed doubt that this will start happening from 2025, as many of the more bullish market entrants are insisting. Lobo Leasing is one of a handful of lessors to have committed to adding eVTOL aircraft, having already made a down payment for Pipistrel’s planned Nuuva autonomous cargo vehicles. The UK-based group’s CEO Dan Roberts said that he is ready to make further payments to the Textron eAviation company with a view to leasing or reselling the Nuuvas to operators. “There’s a lot of talk about it [AAM] and it’s a development play for now,” he commented. “Many investors want returns today and there is no short-term return from this. We need appraisers to be able to tell us what the new aircraft will be worth 30 years from now and that will be necessary to get investors backing eVTOLs.” Olivier Piot, CEO of Nova Capital—which this week launched a €50 million ($54 million) private debt fund for light helicopters—said his company has no plans to invest in eVTOLs. However, he conceded that their arrival on the market could impact residual values of existing rotorcraft. One company that is investing in an AAM future is Bristow, which has provisional order agreements in place with seven manufacturers, including Electra, Beta Technologies, Elroy Air, Vertical Aerospace, Eve Air Mobility, Overair, and Lilium. The helicopter operator’s CEO, Chris Bradshaw, said it also has as-yet-unannounced deals agreed with other OEMs and major airlines, and suggested that early eVTOL use cases could be in regions such as South America and Africa and focused on remotely piloted cargo flights. “There will be a role for startups but also for mature operators like us,” he told the conference. “We have a dozen different AOCs and employ more than 800 pilots and about the same number of maintenance technicians. We also have experience of managing operations in unregulated airspace in places like Surinam, where there is nothing [in terms of infrastructure].” Blade Urban Air Mobility is also working on plans to bring eVTOLs into its network of on-demand operating partners. The U.S. company went public in 2021 and its president and general counsel, Melissa Tomkiel, said its main focus will be building air-taxi and medical services in existing markets such as the New York City metro area, the south of France, and India. “We believe eVTOLs can address community noise concerns [about helicopters] and that will hopefully unlock new landing infrastructure,” she told conference attendees. One of the highlights of the Helicopter Investor event was the unveiling of ambitious plans for a hybrid-powered eVTOL that would carry up to 40 passengers or 9,900 pounds of cargo. European startup Lyte Aviation said it expects to build a full-scale prototype of the tandem tiltwing SkyBus in the next 24 months and have it ready to enter service by 2030. Business Aviation

  • Flexjet Expands Helicopter Operations to Europe
    by Mark Huber on March 24, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    Flexjet to launch helicopter service in the UK, becoming the first jet operator in Europe to offer an in-house helicopter service. March 24, 2023, 8:15 AMFlexjet has added its first super-midsize Sikorsky S-76 helicopter to its European fleet, becoming the first private jet operator in Europe to launch an in-house, integrated helicopter division. The new service, initially focused on the UK, follows a similar launch last year by the company in the Northeast U.S. and Florida. The operator will offer helicopter programs as a standalone service and as an extension to its existing private jet owners as an enhancement of its Gulfstream G650 program in Europe. G650 program owners receive complimentary helicopter transfers to and from their jet at airports in London or the U.S. helicopter service operating regions, providing “last mile” travel. Alongside the Sikorsky S-76, which will be targeted at regular helicopter program fliers, Flexjet will offer on-demand helicopter charters on its operated and managed fleet of Leonardo AW109s and AW169s. These machines were previously operated by Halo Aviation, the company acquired by Flexjet parent Directional Aviation in 2021. The S-76’s 300-nm range allows connections from London to the south of Scotland, Dublin, or Paris, and every helicopter flight is flown by two IFR-qualified pilots. “After such a successful launch in the U.S. last year, we’re extremely excited to be unveiling our Flexjet helicopter offering in Europe,” said Flexjet president of global helicopter operations Eli Flint. “We see significant market potential for our premium helicopter programs here.” The company intends to expand its fleet of Sikorsky S-76s and extend helicopter operations to other regions in Europe in the coming years. Business Aviation

  • EASA Staff Flies Leonardo AW609 Tiltrotor
    by Mark Huber on March 23, 2023 at 6:49 pm

    EASA and FAA staff have flown the Leonardo AW609 civil tiltrotor in run-up to formal type inspection test flights.March 23, 2023, 2:46 PMEASA certification directorate staff members flew the Leonardo AW609 civil tiltrotor in Cascina Costa di Samarate, Italy, on March 16 and 17 as part of its first round of familiarization activities for the aircraft program. These flights follow FAA pre-type inspection authorization (TIA) flights on February 22 in Philadelphia. Leonardo said both sets of flights constitute “an important step forward in the final stages of the certification process” and set “the right pace on the validation process, together with the FAA certification path.” Earlier this month, Leonardo reported that the AW609 civil tiltrotor had reached the “final stages of certification” as the FAA prepares to initiate formal TIA flight tests. Along with the test fleet, three customer AW609s remain in final assembly. However, under questioning, managing director Gian Piero Cutillo admitted that an order for four AW609s from an unnamed European customer, announced at last year’s Heli-Expo, was the largest contract it had received for the type. Company officials have declined to reveal details concerning the aircraft’s total order book, likely pricing, or precise timetable for certification. While Leonardo is noncommittal on estimating a certification date for the AW609, Leonardo emergency medical services specialist Sam Schaab said he expects it to occur “relatively quickly.” The company is marketing the aircraft for a variety of missions, including air ambulance applications. Business Aviation

  • Dubai Helipark Launches Expansion
    by Mark Huber on March 23, 2023 at 3:41 pm

    New rotorcraft facility being built at Al Maktoum International Airport will expand ramp parking to 12 helicopters.March 23, 2023, 11:39 AMThe Dubai Helipark has begun construction on a 461,000-sq-ft facility at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Aerospace Hub (MBRAH). The rotorcraft facility, being built in cooperation with Air Chateau International and adjacent to the private jet FBO, will include a dedicated hangar complex large enough to host MRO services and an expanded ramp that can park up to 12 helicopters, up from the current eight. It will also feature a VIP lounge and a helicopter showroom. Air Chateau began helicopter operations at the Helipark in 2022.  MBRAH is located between Dubai International Airport (OMDB) and Abu Dhabi International Airport (OMAA) and is proximate to Al Maktoum International Airport (OMDW). OMDW is following a path of phased development designed to make it the world’s largest airport with an area of 35,000 acres and the capacity to through put up to 260 million passengers annually. The hub is located 23 miles southwest of Dubai and opened in 2010. Adjacent to the Jebel Ali seaport and served by the cargo handling capability of the Dubai National Air Travel Agency, MBRAH is designed as a fully-integrated, multi-modal aviation ecosystem, serving commercial passenger and cargo, as well as private aviation. Business Aviation

  • NBAA Roundtable Advocates for AAM in FAA Reauthorization
    by Mark Huber on March 23, 2023 at 2:45 pm

    NBAA's Advanced Air Mobility Roundtable marks legislative progress and continuing goals for 2023.March 23, 2023, 10:43 AMThe NBAA Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Roundtable, which recently met and celebrated its two-year anniversary, is working with the bipartisan congressional AAM Caucus and others in Congress to advance pro-AAM policies in the FAA reauthorization bill. Current FAA authorization is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, 2023. “Electric aviation and AAM represent the next generation of air transportation in this country with the first commercial AAM flight scheduled to occur in 2025,” said NBAA senior v-p of government affairs Kristie Greco Johnson. “To achieve this deadline, the FAA must keep pace with aircraft type certifications and the promised regulatory schedule,” including the anticipated issuance of the FAA’s upcoming Special FAR. To do this, the FAA must hire and retain a workforce with the right technical expertise and Congress must make the necessary infrastructure investments, NBAA noted. In 2022, the NBAA AAM Roundtable advocated for two measures that became law, including S.516, the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act, which requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish an interagency working group to review and examine factors that will allow the maturation of the AAM ecosystem within the U.S. and develop an AAM national strategy. It also supported the Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act establishing U.S. Department of Transportation grants to assist state, local, and tribal governments and other entities in planning infrastructure to support AAM operations.  Founding members of NBAA’s AAM Roundtable include Joby Aviation, Lilium, Wisk, Beta Technologies, Supernal, and Hillwood Aviation. The roundtable is focused on maintaining the U.S. position as a global leader in aviation and aerospace, as well as harnessing the full potential of AAM. Business Aviation

  • New Lease Fund Targets Single-engine Helicopters
    by Mark Huber on March 22, 2023 at 2:31 pm

    The Nova Vapital Light Aviation Debt Fund will concentrate on the single-engine helicopter market.March 22, 2023, 10:28 AMParis-based Nova Capital is launching the $54 million Nova Capital Light Aviation Debt Fund, a private debt vehicle backed by single-engine helicopters and light fixed-wing utility aircraft. Concurrently, the company announced that it has acquired 12 new single-engine helicopters over the last two quarters, bringing its portfolio of that type to 54 with a combined asset value of more than $200 million. Olivier Piot, founder and CEO of Nova Capital, said, “We are thrilled to lead the way with our first in-house managed debt fund, which will be the perfect addition to our usual banking debt. It will definitively be a game changer in our current funding mix while increasing our underwriting capacity.” Launched in 2002, Nova became the fourth-largest helicopter lessor in the world by 2019 with an asset portfolio of aircraft worth $350 million. It sold its twin-engine helicopter portfolio to aircraft lessor LCI in 2021 to concentrate on the single-engine, on-shore mission-critical services business. Piot has long maintained that this market segment offers higher returns and lower risk than the cyclical offshore energy business.  Business Aviation

  • Air Medical Lobby Names New President
    by Mark Huber on March 22, 2023 at 1:44 pm

    Jana Williams has been selected as the new president and CEO of the Association of Air Medical Services.March 22, 2023, 9:43 AMJana Williams has been selected as the new president and CEO of the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) and MedEvac Foundation International (MFI), effective April 3.  Williams began her career as a volunteer EMT in 1984 and went on to a 30-year EMS and nursing career, becoming v-p of strategic operations and partner development at a large EMS operator before establishing her own consultancy.  She is president of the National EMS Memorial Service, an organization congressionally selected to honor EMS providers—in the air and on the ground—who die in the line of duty; a board member of the Association for Professional Flight Chaplains (APFC), which provides emotional and spiritual support to transport crews and flight chaplains; and a regent at the AAMS Medical Transport Leadership Institute (MTLI), focusing on topics including program excellence, project management, business communications essentials, and responder support.   “I am excited to become part of such a capable peer group and look forward most to spotlighting the noble and important work of our colleagues and community,” Williams said. Business Aviation

  • Leonardo Books 12 More Helicopter Orders
    by Mark Huber on March 21, 2023 at 9:34 am

    Leonardo AW169 lands first U.S. law enforcement customer.March 21, 2023, 5:32 AMLeonardo signed sales contracts for nine AW139 and AW169 helicopters at the recent Heli-Expo show. The manufacturer will deliver two intermediate twin AW139s to Omni Helicopters International in Brazil in 2024 for offshore energy transport, as well as one AW139 to HeliService International in Germany for the same purpose.  HeliService additionally agreed to take a Leonardo AW169 medium twin. Other AW169 customers announced at the show include Global Vectra Helicorp (two); UI Helijet (two) for air ambulance operations in South Korea; and the Phoenix Police Department’s Air Tactical Support Bureau.   The Phoenix order for a single search-and-rescue/multi-mission configured AW169 marks the entrance of the type into the North American law enforcement market. It is already utilized in that capacity in Italy, Norway, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, and Indonesia.  Leonardo also announced recent orders for three AW109 GrandNew and Trekker light twins into the South American market. The VIP-configured helicopters were sold to SynerJet Latina, a new distributor responsible for Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Paraguay. Deliveries of those aircraft are expected in 2024 and 2025. Of the more than 900 Leonardo VIP/corporate helicopters flying worldwide, approximately 25 percent are based in Latin America. Business Aviation

  • EASA Illuminates Path to Wider AR and VR Sim Approvals
    by Mark Huber on March 20, 2023 at 4:52 pm

    EASA will apply special conditions to expedite approval of augmented and virtual reality flight simulators.March 20, 2023, 12:50 PMEASA has issued a special-information paper dealing with the validation of new generation flight simulation training devices (FSTD)—including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)—that eventually paves the way for approval and use of these devices, particularly with regard to eVTOL pilot training.  The agency notes that “existing certification specifications (so-called Primary Reference Documents (PRD)) to evaluate and qualify FSTDs for pilot training—CS-FSTD(A) issue 2 and CS-FSTD(H) Initial issue—cannot serve or not entirely serve as a qualification basis. Following a gap analysis, they have to be amended or modified by special conditions (SCs). The definition and use of SCs is a faster way to amend the existing certification specifications than an update by a standard rulemaking process.” This includes FSTD special conditions for using head-mounted displays (HMD) combined with a reduced envelope motion platform. EASA already has evaluated and approved these devices for use in the Robinson R22 Beta II and Airbus Helicopters H125. In April 2021, EASA has granted the first certificate for a rotorcraft VR-based FSTD to VRM Switzerland (now Loft Dynamics). The FSTD is qualified as flight and navigation procedures trainer level II for the Robinson R22 Beta II. Approval for the VRM H125 device was received shortly thereafter and has proved popular with a wide variety of operators, including Helitrans and Air Zermatt. Business Aviation

  • Leonardo AW09 Makes First Flight with Safran Power
    by Mark Huber on March 17, 2023 at 7:24 pm

    Leonardo's AW09 helicopter is expected to enter serial production in mid-2024 following its first test flight on March 16.March 17, 2023, 3:22 PMLeonardo’s Safran-powered AW09 PS4 prototype made its first flight on Thursday. The 20-minute flight was conducted at Leonardo’s Mollis, Switzerland facility. According to the company, the flight “completed all set objectives” including hovers at low altitude, spot turns, abd straight and sideways flights at speeds up to 20 knots, as well as several landings and takeoffs. Upcoming tests will expand the helicopter's flight envelope.  Earlier this year, Leonardo said it replaced the AW09’s Honeywell HTS900 turboshaft with the 1,000-shp Safran Helicopter Engines Arriel 2K. At Heli-Expo earlier this month, Leonardo managing director Gian Piero Cutillo said the engine switch would delay certification by no more than one year. Further, Leonardo said it received “preliminary” orders for 50 AW09s to date and predicted the order book could reach 200 by the time serial production starts in mid-2024. Recently announced AW09 customers include Aero Service Representação in Brazil; Synerjet Latina SA in Colombia, Peru, and Chile; Helitech Asia in South East Asia; Safomar in South Africa; Diskopsa in Panama and Guatemala; and Heliflite in Oceania.  Leonardo also recently signed an agreement with U.S.-based Metro Aviation to develop air ambulance interiors for the AW09 and support its introduction into the U.S. market. Leonardo is positioning the AW09 to compete with light twins from other manufacturers in the air ambulance space. Business Aviation

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