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Saturday, May 1, 2010

P&WC: Overall Helicopter Market Strong

By Andrew D. Parker, Managing Editor

Pratt & Whitney hosted a recent event at its Customer Training Center in Hartford, Conn. with President Dave Hess and other top executives from various sections of the company. Rotor & Wing had a chance to sit down with Richard Dussault, vice president of strategic planning and marketing for Pratt & Whitney Canada, to get an update on the commercial rotorcraft engine market. Among recent company developments include certification of the PW207D1 on the Bell 429, continued progress on PW210S testing for the Sikorsky S-76D, and planned improvements to the PT6C.

As part of an ongoing process, P&WC is further upgrading the PT6 series. The PT6C variant is primarily used on the AgustaWestland AW139. A total of 273 AW139s have been delivered through late April, according to Pratt & Whitney, which has handed over a total of 692 PT6C-67Cs for the helicopter type since April 2002. The newest platform is the Eurocopter EC175, which uses the PT6C-67E and flew for the first time in December 2009.

“We are constantly looking at improving the PT6,” Dussault says, including how to increase power, improve fuel efficiency and aerodynamics, and use more sophisticated materials and a better combustion system. The engine family has “quite a breadth of technologies from the very small PT6 to the large one. So we’re able to mix and match components and basically arrive at the right solution for the customer. They are looking at improved fuel economy and fuel efficiency, and we’re working again on improving individual component efficiency throughout the engine,” Dussault says. “But it is a gradual evolution of the product. There’s not a single block point change.”

Pratt & Whitney is working with Sikorsky to evaluate the PW210S on the S-76D, including acquiring engine trending data, analyzing it and verifying that all the parameters are within design limits. “The first step will be the engine certification, which will happen at the end of this year, followed next year by the aircraft certification. So our target is to certify the engine in Q4 of this year,” Dussault explains. However, “most of the certification work is done at Pratt Canada, in our test cells,” as opposed to an aircraft.

Generally speaking, Dussault says the commercial helicopter market is less affected by the global economy than other aviation markets. “Last year was still surprisingly strong for the helicopter manufacturers, they continued to produce at a fairly decent rate [with] a good backlog.” In 2001, the market went down around 10-15 percent in terms of helicopter deliveries. “This time around, it’s probably going to be a bit more than that, but not a lot more. The problem is it’s not totally over yet, we have to wait a few years and look back to see where it happened.”

Dussault explains that the commercial helicopter market is split into four major areas—corporate/VIP, oil and gas exploration, parapublic and EMS. The corporate helicopter sector has taken the largest downturn, mirroring decreases seen in the business jet market.

The parapublic sector, including police, border guards and other public service agencies, “has been very steady because generally speaking, these are funded projects by municipalities and cities, and are not too affected,” Dussault says. EMS is considered a growth area, with all the funding the U.S. government is putting into the healthcare system, he adds.

The offshore sector “is going to continue to be a very strong market for helicopters,” Dussault says, because oil and gas exploration efforts are focused in the sea, where helicopters are needed to land on platforms. He notes that historically, trends on the offshore sector follow the price of oil.
“When the oil shock happened [in early 2008, when the price reached $140 a barrel], people backed down on the investment, but there’s been a pickup again on oil processing, so we’ve seen that market show some resilience,” he adds.

Looking forward, Pratt & Whitney sees the overall helicopter market as strong, with increasing demand in the short term and several long-term areas for growth. “The helicopter is a very good tool of many trades. It’s multi-use, has a great future and it’s demonstrated that it’s an extremely important element of business, of transport, of exploration,” Dussault says. He adds that if, for example, there are 1,000 helicopters being produced each year, 400 to 500 are replacement aircraft. “Half your market is supported with replacement or older equipment,” he notes, which is similar to the regional aircraft/turboprop market.

“Equipment has a finite life,” Dussault says. “It’s a phenomenon we don’t see with business aircraft as much. That’s why we’re confident that given the size of the fleet and the age of the fleet, there will be a lot of support for replacement, and therefore, growth as well. We think it’s a highly invest-able market.”

Dussault has worked for Pratt & Whitey for more than 30 years. “I’ve seen an amazing expansion in terms of product line and diversification of portfolio,” he says. Continual investment in new technology and new product lines “has also allowed us to today have a balanced business. That’s what I’ve seen as a transformation—where [in the past] we might have been a bit more dependent on unique markets, today we have a very wide breadth of products.”

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