Record Heli-Expo Brings Crowds, Debuts and Deals

Helicopter show hints at recovering market.

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Eurocopter EC145T2Stephen Pope

More than 20,000 rotorcraft aficionados descended on Orlando, Florida, for this year's Heli-Expo, held at the Orange County Convention Center from March 6 to 8. Helicopter manufacturers unveiled several new models at the show and offered special pricing that for many apparently was too enticing to let pass. Eurocopter kicked things off with the introduction of the new EC145T2, notable for featuring a fenestron, Turbomeca Arriel 2E engines that provide 25 percent more power, and upgraded avionics. Also new were the Model 407GX and 407AH variants that Bell Helicopter unveiled on the show's opening day. The Bell 407GX features a Garmin G1000H cockpit with synthetic-vision technology while the 407AH is a commercially available armed helicopter targeted primarily at the export market.

Swiss engineering firm Marenco, meanwhile, unveiled a light single-engine helicopter called the SKYe SH09 Swisshelicopter that the company said will be capable of carrying as many as eight passengers up to 430 nautical miles and have a maximum cruise speed of 145 knots. Certification and first deliveries are planned for 2015.

AgustaWestland didn't introduce any new helicopters, but it showed off a mockup of its new AW169 light twin, unveiled at last summer's Farnborough Airshow in England, and the latest offshore oil and aeromedical versions of its hot-selling AW139. Sikorsky's X2 twin-coaxial-rotor demonstrator was the big draw at its show floor exhibit, which also featured an S-92 and S-76D. Eurocopter, meanwhile, hinted that it could launch its highly anticipated X4, a replacement model for the EC155 Dauphin, as early as this spring, and has added "e" designators to four models (the first being the AS350 B3e due for certification this summer) that offer enhanced capabilities.

With the helicopter market clearly on the rebound after a few tough years, all of the major OEMs predicted sales would begin rising in earnest by next year. Indeed, Heli-Expo 2011 already appeared to hint at the turnaround, as helicopter manufacturers announced scores of sales throughout the show, which itself set records for attendance and size, according to the Helicopter Association International.

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