OEMs Turn to MRO as Rotorcraft Sales Stall

The main reveal at Heli-Expo was Bell Helicopter's FCX001 Future Concept helicopter. Features would include morphing main rotor blade tips, multiple fans in the tail-boom for anti-torque, and augmented reality cockpit.. (Photo: ATP)

Andrew Drwiega reports from this year’s Heli-Expo in Dallas where the downturn in the energy sector resulted in a subdued atmosphere. Business minds are turning to MRO to claw back revenues.

The very obvious downturn in new orders being experience by the helicopter industry globally has seen an increased focus on customer support and service by the main helicopter manufacturers, a fact witnessed at this year’s annual gathering of the helicopter industry, Heli-Expo (7-9 March) staged in Dallas, Texas.

Sikorsky president Dan Schultz, speaking on the morning of the first day remarked that his company was now completely ‘severed’ from previous owner, UTC. Customer support, he said, was one area on which the company under Lockheed Martin was keen to improve.

“One year ago I was disappointed in customer support,” he admitted. “Many customers were upset with us in 2016. We have since hired dozens of customer representatives and we have been supporting aircraft-on-ground (AOG) on a 24/7 basis. These are airplanes that have to be ready and reliable.” AOG is a maintenance term denoting a problem serious enough to prevent the aircraft from flying.

Dana Fiatarone, vice president for commercial systems and services, said that new customer support innitiatives and the extra service representatives had allowed Sikorsky “to make tremendous strides in 2016.”

“Aftermarket was one of the things we needed to focus on. Now we have long term assurance programmes – some as long as a decade.”

He said that aircraft availability was now better than 95 percent for both the S-92 and S-76 fleets. There had been a 20 percent increase in flight hours last year. “Customers said we need to increase flight hours – can you support us.”

The opening of four stocking centres in Scotland, Norway, Australia and Brazil now meant that part ordering was now taking less than a day to be turned around “and in some cases less than an hour.” The Norwegian centre made over 200 parts shipments in Q4 2016. Fiatarone also said that Sikorsky was analysing stocking levels compared with the demand for parts, which varied between the regions.

During the show Sikorsky, PHI and Outerlink Global Solutions (a Metro Aviation company) jointly announed that an S-92 helicopter had transmitted in-flight, real-time Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) data to PHI’s operations control center. This advance will allow S-92 operators to continually monitor the health of each S-92 helicopter in their fleet. According to Lance Bospflug, chief operating officer, PHI: ”This new solution enhances flight crew decision making and improves support from the operations control center by providing both with real-time aircraft health information.”

MD Helicopters Ramps-Up Online

Lynn Tilton, the owner MD Helicopters, speaking from her stand on the second morning of the show, is now presenting a more promising picture for MD Helicopters’ customers as the company can afford to ramp-up service and support thanks to the dollars it is making through military sales, the latest of which is the new MD530G to launch customer Malaysia.
Said Tilton: ”It takes a long time to shake stigma. I have to give kudos to our aftermarket team; they have taken a vision that I had and made it into reality. I don’t think we have had more than two AOGs this year.”

Tilton added that the doubling of field service representatives had also been a major contributing factor to a better service offering for MD’s customers.

Having been largely scathing of the supply chain since she took over the company in July 2005, Tilton is keen for MD Helicopter operators to strengthen their direct relationship, particularly in parts. “We want them to buy our parts and not buy PMA parts.”

The Safran helicopter engines plant at Grand Prairie, Texas. Last year the facility turned around 465 engines through its MRO shop. (Photo: Andrew Drwiega)
The Safran helicopter engines plant at Grand Prairie, Texas. Last year the facility turned around 465 engines through its MRO shop. (Photo: Andrew Drwiega)

With MD Helicopters striving to improve its reputation, especially in the MRO field, it is focusing on boosting customer online accessibility with 3D imaging and new deals with companies such as Aircraft Technical Publishers (ATP) to allow better access to maintenance information.

Building on the launch of the MyMD.aero support portal at Heli-Expo a year ago, a deal has now been agreed with Aircraft Technical Publishers (ATP) for MD customers to have access to ATP’s Aviation Hub content through the on online Single Sign On (SSO) feature, embedded it the MyMD.aero site.

The online portal will assist MD Helicopters’ customers to manage their end-to-end maintenance processes from a unified platform. Operators and owners can now access maintenance information including product updates, Airworthiness Directives (ADs) and Service Bulletins (SBs).

MD Helicopter owners can now access Aircraft Technical Publishers (ATP) Aviation Hub content the MyMD.aero site. (Photo: ATP)
MD Helicopter owners can now access Aircraft Technical Publishers (ATP) Aviation Hub content the MyMD.aero site. (Photo: ATP)

“Our focus at MD Helicopters is to provide exceptional customer experiences. One of the ways we do this is by helping ensure our aircraft are serviced efficiently and effectively through improved access and more intelligent content and information management,” said Randall Schaffer, director, aftermarket business development & customer engagement at MD Helicopters.

Sikorsky's Dana Fiatarone (left) with Dan Schultz (right) brief the media on the company's measures that are turning around customer support response times. (Photo: Andrew Drwiega)
Sikorsky’s Dana Fiatarone (left) with Dan Schultz (right) brief the media on the company’s measures that are turning around customer support response times. (Photo: Andrew Drwiega)

“ATP is constantly looking for ways to leverage technology to make aircraft safer and improve efficiency for our customers,” said Ted Haugner, vice president, OEM Sales for ATP. “We’re pleased to partner with MD Helicopters to enable them to quickly enhance their service capabilities.”

ADS-B for Rotorcraft

With the FAA’s 2020 mandate for ADS-B Out compliance drawing ever closer, Vector Aerospace announced that it had received approval from the European and United States airworthiness authorities for its ADS-B solutions for Part 27 and Part 29 rotorcraft.

In December 2016, Vector received European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) supplemental type certificate (STC) approval for its Part 29 rotorcraft ADS-B solution for the Airbus Helicopters AS332 L/L1 Super Puma, Leonardo Helicopters AW139 and Sikorsky S-76.

Simultaneously, Vector received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) STC approval to extend the approved model list (AML) its Part 27 ADS-B solutions to include the Airbus Helicopters H120/EC120, H125/AS350 and H130/EC130 light helicopter families.

Vector’s Part 29 ADS-B retrofit upgrade has already received STC approval from the national airworthiness authorities of the USA (FAA), Brazil (ANAC) and Mexico (DGAC). This STC – which utilizes the L3 Lynx NGT-9000 transponder – allows for a panel mount or remote mount transceiver, if cockpit space is a challenge.

The company’s ADS-B In/Out solution for the Airbus light helicopter family offers customers a choice between using the L3 Lynx NGT-9000 transponder or Garmin’s GTX-345 unit.

In contrast Precision Heli-Support (PHS) has selected the FreeFlight Systems RANGR Series as its platform for developing an FAA ADS-B compliant system for the MD Helicopters 369, 500N, and 600N rotorcraft. Jerry Guevara, PHS’ general manager said, “Discussions on ADS-B have steadily increased over the past 10 years and for most, the reality has set in that 2020 is no longer far away.” He said the company’s aim was to provide a low cost transition to customers with minimal downtime.

Engine MRO: Room for Expansion

During Heli-Expo, AVM magazine was invited to tour the facilities of Safran Helicopter Engines USA and Safran Electronics & Defense Avionics at Grand Prairie, Texas. The facility provides engine assembly, engine MRO and customer support to North and South America.

Doug Dupont, USCG/USCBP key account manager stated that the facility had manufactured 134 Arrius and Arriel engines through two production lines in 2016, and was on target to achieve the same in 2017. The facility has capacity to ramp-up to a maximum of 500 engines per annum. it takes around 10 days to build an engine using five module lines.

Engine MRO is a core part of the business with each engine received now taking slightly less than 60 days to be returned to the customer, a marked improvement on years gone-by. This is the result of a company wide drive to reduce turn-around times. Last year the facility provided maintenance on 465 engines through its MRO shops and this year is expected to handle a minimum of 420.

Safran’s US business accounts for 25 percent of the company’s global revenues with Boeing being its largest customer. Safran supports three large US government helicopter fleets. The U.S. Army’s Airbus UH-72 Lakota is powered by two Arriel 1E2 tuboshaft engines with a total of 800 engines to be maintained; the U.S. Coast Guard uses the MH-65 Dolphin with its twin Arriel 2C2-CG engines – adding another 200 to Safran’s care list. The third Federal customer is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency with its 60+ AS350 A-Stars powered by Arriel 2B engines and 20+ Ec120s with Arrius 2F engines.

Vector Aerospace now has European and United States airworthiness authority approval for its ADS-B solutions for Part 27 and Part 29 for rotorcraft. (Photo: Vector)
Vector Aerospace now has European and United States airworthiness authority approval for its ADS-B solutions for Part 27 and Part 29 for rotorcraft. (Photo: Vector)

News Round-Up

Lord Corporation has released a free mobile app designed for MRO customers looking for parts. Available for iOS under Lord MRO Services, the interactive tool gives access to over 110 aerospace aftermarket parts for 15 of the 25 platforms that Lord directly services.

Lord has also extended its warranty and repair offerings for several programs. These include: Bell 412 main driveshaft boot overhaul; Bell 206 TT Straps PMA; Bell 412 main rotor spindle exchange program; Bell 430 shear restraint exchange program; Schweizer 300 main rotor damper and tail rotor bearing ; and Bell 206 trunnion bearing 3-year/2,500-hour warranty. Francois Magnan, Lord’s aftermarket customer manager, said that the continual refinements in the repair and warrant programs were a result of paying closer attention to the needs of owners/operators. ‘Supporting the Legacy’ is a camaign from Heli-One designed to provide operators with S-61 maintenance support by offering over 200 proprietary repairs and extensive upgrade modifications.

Heli-One’s nose-to-tail MRO service include all levels of inspections and checks, dynamics, airframes, hydraulics, and avionics. Heli-One claims “hundreds of innovative repairs to save parts typically deemed Beyond Economical Repair (BER) and has worked with operators to find solutions to safely extend the lifespan of the aircraft.”

Standard Aero and Rolls Royce jointly celebrated their 50 year relationship over the maintenance of the M250 helicopter engine. According to a statement from Manny Atwal, vice president and general manager of StandardAero’s helicopters business unit, over 50 years her company has been able to “make significant improvements to increase ITT margin, reduce gearbox vibration and improve compressor performance providing better fuel consumption and improving helicopter operators’ mission envelope.” In turn, Rolls Royce presented Standard Aero with three awards for ‘Customer Satisfaction,’ ‘Program Investment’ and ‘Total Quality’ during a reception at Heli-Expo. Rolls-Royce also released its FIRST (Fully Integrated Rolls-Royce Support Team) free smart phone app for helicopter operators using the M250 and RR300 engines. The app is available for both Apple and Google Android devices.

Scott Baier, Rolls-Royce, MRO manager, said: “The new FIRST network smart phone and tablet app makes it easy for operators to find 24-hour support including finding an authorized service center, purchasing parts and contacting the Rolls-Royce operations center.”

The engine manufacturer also stated that has expanded support for RR300 engines used in Robinson R66 helicopters through its TotalCare maintenance program. It released an improved engine monitoring unit with enhanced reliability; increased the number of deployed technical representatives and added an online RR300 customer training program through Aviall, the exclusive RR300 parts distributor.