HAI reports: As Heli-Expo returns to Anaheim, LCI Analytics picks three lessons


HAI Heli-Expo has returned to Anaheim after a gap of four years.

HAI Heli-Expo is back in Anaheim, Califfornia after a gap of four years. Steve Robertson, MD, LCI Analytics thinks it’s a good time to take stock.

“The HAI of Anaheim 2020 narrowly preceded the truly world altering Covid-19 pandemic,” writes Robertson just before event. “So, it’s worth recapping some of the lessons and observations since then.” For him, three key lessons stand out. They concern certification, the importance of mission critical rotorcraft and reasons to be cheerful.

On certification, Robertson concludes: “It’s easier to fly a helicopter on Mars than to certify one on Earth.” Back at the 2020 show, NASA previewed its Mars Helicopter Scout mission, scheduled for 2021. It was a great success, flying a total of 72 flights until being grounded last month.

At the same event, Kopter revealed orders for the SH09 along with an expectation of joint EASA/FAA certification within the year. Sikorsky announced its S92A+ upgrade kit was due to be ready in 2023 and Bell displayed a 525 on its stand, claiming the programme was in the final stages of testing. Also at the show, Airbus anticipated the immanent certification of its H160, with Shell expected to be one of the first operators.

Challenges OEMs face

Ahead of the show, Robertson notes: “At the time of writing, nearly all of these types are still yet to be certified (with the exception of the H160 which was certified by the FAA in June 2023 – albeit not yet flying passengers for Shell), only going to highlight the challenges that OEMs face when introducing new aircraft.”

But there have been notable successes, he adds. The Airbus H145 has achieved more than 200 deliveries since the last Anaheim show, according to data from Cirium. (Follow the link for more details). The latest D3 model launched in 2019 has proved popular, particularly in emergency medical services (EMS) markets and in the emerging offshore wind business.

Also, during the past four years, unused Sikorsky S-92s, which stood at 34 uncontracted aircraft in 2020, have been absorbed, with just two uncontracted aircraft. “That’s good news not only for owners of S-92s but also for the super-medium OEMs which were struggling to compete with surplus S-92s being offered into the market at lower-than-usual rates,” writes Robertson.

Plus, “the ubiquitous” AW139 programme goes from strength-to-strength, he notes. The helicopter has been in production for more than 20 years now and with over 1,000 units now in civilian service and on order. The global fleet totals over 1,200 aircraft, which have logged more than 3m flight hours.

‘When the going gets tough’

The second lesson Robertson harvests from the past four years is that: “When the going gets tough, the mission critical rotorcraft gets going.” In stark contrast to the commercial fixed-wing market, Covid-19 highlighted rotorcraft’s ability to perform secondary helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) missions and the ability of the rotorcraft supply chain to react and adapt.

“This ranged from deploying PPE for staff and passengers, the re-arrangement of terminals and flight timings, modifications to aircraft including barriers between crew and passengers and even dedicated ‘Corona-copters’ for the transfer of unwell offshore workers from platform to shore,” he writes. “This ensured that critical services such as providing energy and power to the population could continue uninterrupted.”

‘Floods and fires’

Also, major climate events, such as floods and wildfires, have revealed the value of rotorcraft in saving lives and curbing environmental destruction. Bringing humanitarian relief during floods in Australia and fires in Hawaii are just two examples of helicopters’ life-saving missions.

The final lesson is suitably cheery for the land that is home to Mickey, Minnie and their friends. “Despite everything, long-term optimism was justified,” is his final lesson from the past four years. At the 2020 event, Robertson remembered the positive messages from industry leaders such as Crispin Maunder, now executive chairman of LCI and Pat Sheedy, CEO, Milestone.

Four years on, their optimism was justified, he concludes. “Despite the interruption to the industry during the Covid outbreak, this positivity proved justified and the lessors that were impacted by the severe industry downturn are now facing supply shortages themselves. These developments mean that we can approach HAI 2024 with a sense of optimism.”

Promise opportunities

Backing LCI Analytics’ continued optimism today are strong demand drivers in the mission critical rotorcraft sectors. Underlying levels of fleet renewal have been low in recent years, he writes. Also, the implementation of the latest safety standards in the offshore market and the modernisation of the rotary fleet promise opportunities in the years ahead.

Of course, significant challenges remain to be overcome. Not least, supply-side, supply-chain constraints and financing challenges, writes Robertson. “And it [the industry] must also endeavour to achieve growth in a disciplined and pragmatic manner if the market is to be balanced and sustainable.”

Read Robertson’s full analysis here. HAI Heli-Expo ends on Thursday February 29th.