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18 March 2015

Heli Expo 2015: Rotorcraft OEMs look to Boost FMS business

Despite the announcement by Gregory Hayes, chief executive officer of Universal Technologies Corporation (UTC) on 11 March that he was investigating selling or ‘spinning off” Sikorsky Aircraft, the week before Sikorsky president Mick Maurer has been underlining the company’s successful wins at Heli Expo, in Florida (2-5 March).

The Indian Navy has made a decision to acquire 16 S-70B Seahawks from Sikorsky. (Photo: Sikorsky)

While the annual convention largely focuses on the civil sector, is provides and opportunity for the heads of the major helicopter manufacturers to brief the media on their financial performance, reviewing the past year and looking ahead to the next.

The United States and the Department of Defence (DoD) in particular is the largest market for Sikorsky’s products: A continuing supply of UH-60 BLACK HAWKs and SEA HAWKs, as well as the upcoming CH-53K for the United States Marine Corps (USMC).

Addressing the issue of sequestration, Maurer stated that the five year multiyear buying programmes that the DoD had running over several helicopter platforms was already good value.  “They talked about cutting the fifth year of the multi-year Sea Hawk Romeo programme as a way to save money but when they did the numbers they realised it would cost more and they would get fewer aircraft,” Maurer said. “We are also in the middle of negotiating the ninth multi year with the army right now because it makes so much sense.”

In 2014, Sikorsky won plenty of business with four key programmes: The Indian Naval utility contract of 16 S-70Bs; the Turkish utility helicopter programme and industrialisation supply line; the US presidential helicopter win; the Air Force CSAR helicopter. On top of that they have a the Joint Multi Role technology demonstrator to work on which will fly in 2017. Sikorsky total backlog is worth around $49 billion!

John Garrison, president of Bell Helicopter, said that his company’s business was currently split 62-38% between military and commercial business. He acknowledged the effects of sequestration which had made an impact on defence procurement generally, the cornerstone of the military business remains the Bell Boeing V-22 OSPREY with nearly 300 already delivered to the USMC and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). Multi-Year II from the end of 2014 through to 2019 requires 99 Ospreys. Production has fallen to around 21 V-22s per year but nevertheless this generated $ 1.7 billion for Bell Helicopter in 2014 with other military sales amounting to a further $860 million out of a total revenue of $ 4.2 billion. Over a quarter of a million flight hours have now been logged on the OSPREY with cost per flight hour stated to be decreasing.

The decision by the Japanese government to include the purchase of the first five V-22s in their FY-16 budget request is a landmark event as it represents the first international customer for the OSPREY. “We expect a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) after 1st April through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract,” confirmed Garrison.

The US Navy has also included the purchase of a V-22s derivative in its defence budget for the first time. The proposal is for four OSPREYs to be acquired each year from 2018 to 2020 for the Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) role to replace the turboprop C2A GREYHOUND. Up to 48 OSPREYs have been earmarked for potential acquisition by the Navy for a number of years, although up to this point there was no budget line identified.

Bell’s other USMC business is the H-1 programme and the supply of the latest UH-1Y VENOM and AH-1Z VIPERs replacing the older UH-1Ns Hueys and AH-1W SuperCOBRAs. “We have produced 108 Yankees and 39 Zulus and we are just starting the Z build new rather than upgrading old cabins. This is not on a multiyear contract . but is essential to the USMC. They now have two operational squadrons,” Garrison said. Bell would like to find additional foreign customers for these two types of helicopter as they will be supporting those that are joining the USMC for many years to come.

Another helicopter manufacturer chasing the FMS market is MD Helicopters. Having broken into this lucrative sector with an initial contract signed in 2011 to provide the Afghan Air Force with six MD 530Fs for its ab initio pilot training (one of which has since been destroyed), a follow-on contract will now see 17 armed MD 530F CAYUSE WARRIORs supplied to serve in a close air support role, with more potentially to follow.

Lynn Tilton, owner of MD Helicopters, detailed her plans for the military versions of the 500 Series during Heli Expo: “We will certify the upgraded MD 530G which will take our take-off weight to 3,700 lbs and continue to work on the certification of the MD 540A which will be MDHI’s most advanced scout attack helicopter at over 4,300 lbs take-off weight.”

MD Helicopters has found a foreign military sales market for its MD 530F. The Afghanistan Air Force is now taking 17 armed versions for the close air support role. (Photo: MD Helicopters)

She added: “Over 70% of what we delivered was to the military in 2014. That has given us the chance to make money and invest in technology.”

Mike Hirschberg, the executive director of the American Helicopter Society (AHS) International said that his organisation had been busy lobbying government for the restoration of rotorcraft research funding. He said that the AHS, working with the Vertical Lift Consortium, had secured “an additional $14 million for the Army's Aviation Advanced Technology funding line.” Among other projects, this supports research into the  next-generation Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme.

He added that for FY15, AHS lobbying had also helped to secure and increase of $7 million over the $15 million in the presidential budget for the North American Space Administration”s (NASA) Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology (RVLT) project.

Speaking abut rotorcraft in Afghanistan, Hirschberg said that they were, “over 400 aircraft lost,” in operations over the war fighting years in Iraq and Afghanistan, “largely as a result of brown-out.” He also noted the rate at which spares were consumed due to the tough conditions faced by the military. While the next stage in the development of a new concept in military rotorcraft, the Joint Multi Role technology demonstration, will take place in 2017 involving both Bell Helicopter and Boeing Sikorsky, Hirschberg said that AHS lobbying had helped the two companies that missed out, Karem Aircraft and AVX Aircraft, to received a few million dollars to continue their studies into JMR options. 

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