The biggest growth is in the S-92A, once a slow seller, with production of 32 green aircraft expected this year, a 60% spike in production over 2011, to three a month, says Beyer. But the S-76D is also to climb to three a month next year and Sikorsky has moved production of the S-300C light training helicopter to Coatesville, with an “aggressive” build-up planned for 2013, says Hakim.
On the completions side, where it can take thousands of hours to customize a helicopter for delivery to a VIP, SAR or offshore customer, the growth in commercial activity is even more evident. The facility plans to complete 57 S-92s in 2013, up from 23 this year, and there are already 16 S-76Ds on the production line, ready to move into completion once certification is received.
SGH had to lease extra hangar space at the Coatesville airport to accommodate the S-76D line, and Hakim says she is running “what-if” drills in anticipation of having to find more space to house increases in output for both helicopters. One option is to take over the hangar where CH-148 Cyclone maritime-helicopter versions of the S-92 are being assembled for Canada. But Sikorsky is still negotiating to restructure the much-delayed CH-148 program; plans to complete delivery of the 28 helicopters in 2013 are shrouded in uncertainty.
Bell, meanwhile, is seeing a “substantial year-on-year increase” in commercial sales, says CEO John Garrison. “We are seeing it across all platforms,” he says, including the updated 407GX light turbine single, 429 light twin and 412 medium twin in the oil and gas and parapublic markets. Demand for the 429 has been highest in countries that have approved a 500-lb. increase in gross weight, but so far the FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have refused to grant the certification exemption.
“Transport Canada and 11 others have approved the exemption; the FAA and EASA have not,” says Garrison, “We are working with the FAA on the process for resubmitting or appealing, and Transport Canada and Bell are engaged with EASA on certification. We are continuing to work it. In markets where they have the weight increase, the capability of the aircraft is being used successfully.”
While Bell is working to find international customers for its AH-1Z, UH-1Y and Bell Boeing V-22 military rotorcraft to offset expected reductions in U.S. sales, the company is banking on civil sales to balance its business. Development of the Model 525 “super medium” twin is on track for a first flight in mid- to-late 2014, says Garrison. Sitting between the S-76D and S-92, the 525 will enable Bell to compete with Sikorsky, and European commercial market leaders AgustaWestland and Eurocopter.
At Sikorsky, commercial sales will help offset the “volume challenge” in 2012 and 2013, as military deliveries dip. Although the company signed its eighth U.S. multi-year contract in July for 653 Black Hawks and Seahawks worth $8.5 billion over five years, the new deal tightens profit margins and slows production rates. Significant foreign military sales are included, but deliveries do not begin until 2014.
Although U.S. government sales are forecast to decline over the next five years, international military sales are expected to recover after a slump in 2013. When combined with commercial sales, Sikorsky is projecting double-digit growth in 2014-16.
Offshore energy and search-and-rescue are the hottest markets on the civil side. The company is bidding on three SAR tenders that could bring in orders for 20-30 S-92s, says Mick Maurer, Sikorsky's president. The S-76D has secured a SAR launch order for up to 10 helicopters, and China's transport ministry is ordering up to eight. Overall, the Chinese market could be worth $1.6 billion over four years, he says.
Offshore demand has boosted the S-92 backlog to $1.5 billion and accounts for 75% of S-76D orders over the last two months, says Maurer. The first two of 16 S-92s for new offshore customer Bond Aviation Group were delivered at the plant here on Oct. 4. After completion, they will enter service on the North Sea in January with Bond's new subsidiary Norsk Helikopterservice in Stavanger, Norway.