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Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Editor’s Notebook

James T. McKenna

Change Behind, Change Ahead

December brings to a close a tumultuous year for the rotorcraft industry.

It began with cancellation of the U.S. Army's long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar RAH-66 Comanche armed reconnaissance and scout helicopter. Then, combat losses in Iraq highlighted the defensive deficiencies of U.S. rotorcraft and the strains of placing new mission requirements on National Guard and Reserve units supported under the old mindset of the military.

Sikorsky and the team of Lockheed Martin, AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter slugged it out over the virtues and vices of international participation in helicopter programs as they sought the upper hand in the fight to supply the next U.S. presidential rotary-wing transport.

The fight is rich with irony. Sikorsky tries to wrap in the American flag an aircraft launched as the epitome of international collaboration. Meanwhile, the European Union has rapped Italy, home of AgustaWestland, for failing to open its government markets to foreign helicopter manufacturers. (Agusta's parent, Finmeccanica, closed the year strengthening its standing in the marketplace by taking full control of AgustaWestland when GKN bowed out of the partnership and the United Kingdom opted not to block that change.)

In Canada, the government picked the S-92 in finally deciding on the choice of its next search-and-rescue helicopter--perhaps.

On the safety front, both the offshore support and air medical service sectors in the United States found themselves wrestling to understand why their respective accident rates are reaching historic levels and what they can do to reverse those trends.

On the security side, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration set aside the legitimate concerns of helicopter schools and operators to impose--many would say ram down their throats--new requirements for controlling which non-U.S. students take flight training in the Land of the Free.

As the year ends, the question still lingers on what will become of MD Helicopters.

Perhaps most momentous of those developments was the Boeing-Sikorsky Comanche program's cancellation.

It may be years before its full effects are measured, but clearly the axing of the program will be beneficial for the industry. It is an affirmation of the Army's recognition that an aviation force built to confront massed armor and infantry on battlefields in Europe is ill suited to the conflicts we will face in coming years. It theoretically frees billions of dollars for the development and production of diverse rotorcraft innovations, such as those needed to support warfighters in the conflicts we are likely to face.

Proposals for aircraft to satisfy the Army's new requirements for an armed reconnaissance and a light utility helicopter are just a few of the examples of these innovations. Comanche's cancellation has promoted interest in MD Helicopters by both Boeing and Sikorsky, possibly saving products and capabilities that deserve to be kept viable in the marketplace.

It also clearly spurred Sikorsky's acquisition of Schweizer Aircraft, which marries the former's finances and market needs with the latter's engineering agility. The prospect of new and upgraded products from the combined Sikorsky-Schweizer can't help but spur competitors from Robinson to Bell and Eurocopter to strategize on possible responses in the marketplace. All of that will be good for the industry.

With all that in mind, Rotor & Wing is preparing some responses itself. This month, we publish the 2005 Supplier Sourcebook, a listing of companies in the business of building, operating and supporting rotorcraft. We will very shortly follow it with publication this year of the World Rotorcraft Resource. This comprehensive directory will include detailed listings of rotorcraft-related companies, including the products and services they offer. It also will have basic specifications for the rotary-wing aircraft and engines flying today, including unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as information on U.S.-issued supplemental type certificates for rotorcraft.

A special section of the World Rotorcraft Resource will be the Helicopter Training Guide, a comprehensive directory of the training institutions, manufacturers and vendors supporting helicopter flight training.

If you have any questions about the material listed in these new, vital publications, now or throughout 2005, contact me directly at 301-354-1839 or jmckenna@accessintel.com.

Distributed at trade shows and other industry events, the World Rotorcraft Resource and the Helicopter Training Guide are intended as essential tools to help you--the helicopter operator, supplier, manufacturer and pilot--survive and prosper in what promises to remain tumultuous times for our industry.

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