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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Year in Review: 2011

By Andrew Parker, Senior Editor [aparker@accessintel.com]

Overall, 2011 could be described as a year that included some dramatic ups and downs for helicopters involved in combat. In the commercial market, while nobody can predict the direction of the economy, the continued development of new variants and sales inching forward is fueling a guarded optimism that 2012 could bring a return to more plentiful times.

It’s been an eventful year, with the U.S. Special Ops helicopter raid on Osama bin Laden (see coverage in June issue starting on page 10), followed a couple months later by the crash of a 10th Army Combat Aviation Brigade Boeing Chinook that resulted in the deaths of 38 troops (see September issue, page 12).

Rotor & Wing publication Military Insider made its debut in June 2011, with a second installment appearing in this issue. Military Insider is scheduled to appear three times during 2012 and become a regular feature in the years ahead.

Another interesting development in the past 12 months is AgustaWestland’s purchase of Bell’s share in the BA609 tiltrotor program, now the AW609 (see August issue, page 16). Bell CEO John Garrison says the Fort Worth, Texas-based manufacturer decided to focus solely on the V-22 program, its joint venture with Boeing (see November issue, page 26).

The helicopter featured on this month’s cover—Eurocopter’s EC145T2—made a couple of key appearances during 2011, with the smoke-filled, Hollywood-style introduction of the variant during Heli-Expo in March, to the flight demonstration of Tango 2, aka the “terminator,” at an Oct. 25 customer event in Grand Prairie, Texas (see page 13).

One memory that sticks out in my mind about 2011 is slowly weaving my way to the front of a packed crowd and taking a video of the EC145T2 unveiling, and then doing basically the same thing across the Heli-Expo show floor about 30 minutes later with the introduction of the Bell 407GX and 407AH (see aviationtoday.com/rw/heliexpo2011/videos).

Other new and in-development variants made strides in 2011. Among the highlights include the introduction of the AgustaWestland AW189 during the Paris Air Show (see August issue, page 16); Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider advancing toward first flight in 2014 (see story, page 23); MD Helicopters winning a U.S. Army training contract (see April issue, page 23); the unveiling of Marenco Swisshelicopter’s SKYe SH09 (see April issue, page 12); Russian Helicopters finalizing the consolidation of its manufacturing and service entities (see February issue, page 15); Eurocopter announcing its X4 Dauphin replacement (see August issue, page 14) and flight testing its X3 hybrid demonstrator (see May issue, page 26); and Robinson’s R66 receiving a positive response (see February issue, page 24), with CEO Kurt Robinson projecting an upswing in helicopter sales at the beginning of the year (see April issue, page 23).

There were also a number of developments in emerging markets, with the first China Helicopter Exposition taking place in September (see coverage in October issue, page 10) and several OEMs seeking to benefit from the projected growth in helicopter demand in Asia.

One of the things that makes the helicopter industry so dynamic is all the characters and personalities.

Many of the industry figures that Rotor & Wing had the opportunity to speak with during 2011—including Turbomeca CEO Olivier Andries (see page 26), Bell’s Garrison; Air Methods CEO Aaron Todd (see October issue, page 44); Russian Helicopters CEO Dmitry Petrov (see April issue, page 15); Sikorsky President Jeff Pino (see August issue, page 12); Kaman Helicopters President Sal Bordonaro (see May issue, page 42); UTair President & CEO Andrey Martirosov (see April issue, page 24); Kurt Robinson and others—share a generally optimistic outlook toward the future of the industry.

While financial analysts run the spectrum in terms of where the worldwide economy is headed, most of the insiders we spoke with during 2011 feel that the rotorcraft market has leveled out and is headed toward a steadily rising trend, or at the worst a continuation of the “flat is the new up” economics.

These represent some of the major highlights of 2011, but there are hundreds of additional stories from the past 12 months that are worth a second look (see Year in Review, page 32).

If even for just a minute, it’s important to reflect back on 2011 as we look ahead to 2012. Add it all up, and it’s been a year to remember in the history of helicopters.

What is your organization’s outlook going into 2012? Are you optimistic going into this year’s Heli-Expo in Dallas? Please send your comments to aparker@accessintel.com

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