S-92 will be leading North Sea copter ‘for decades’

Written by Allister Thomas

Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky has claimed its S-92 will remain the leading helicopter in the North Sea “for decades to come”.

The claim – from vice president of business development and strategy Nathalie Previte – may be a fair one. The aircraft is widely favoured by passengers and pilots alike and has a strong track record on reliability.

Its dominance in the North Sea is reflected in the fact the region has accounted for nearly half of all S-92 flight hours this year, despite the helicopter operating in 25 countries around the world.

The aircraft also has a 95% availability rating and has won a raft of awards proving its safety merits.

However, some concern has been raised that, despite the S-92’s immaculate record, it could be too dominant in the North Sea, with a union last month claiming any grounding would cripple the sector.

The claims came from Industri Energi (IE), a Norwegian union, however Ms Previte was quick to dismiss them.

She said: “It’s interesting that someone would say there’s no competition when there’s obviously an oversupply in the oil and gas market.

“Grounding is not a high risk, it is a very, very low probability if at all.

“We are very confident and proud of the S-92’s reliability. There was a time when the oil and gas industry was concerned when another aircraft was removed from flying offshore. We have had a lot of people from the North Sea and the unions come and visit us to talk about safety offshore and ensuring the safety of the aircraft.

“We have seen a trend of increased flight hours. Our availability metric is close to 95%, that speaks volumes about the performance and reliability of the aircraft.

“There are many industries that have selected just one product and they don’t talk about ‘what if’, they talk about what has been tested and proven. The S-92 is in that category that is proven.

“We do have a loyal customer base and that’s because the missions are performed at all times. Our availability is unmatched.”

The IE union said, on the Norwegian side, “all the eggs were in one basket” with the S-92.

That is not necessarily the case in the UK, with some operators using other helicopters like the H175 and AW189, however the S-92 is the dominant force in the region.

Part of the North Sea’s reliance on the S-92 has come from the grounding of Super Puma helicopters following a fatal crash in Norway in 2016.

Thirteen people were killed in the incident off the island of Turoy, including Iain Stuart from Laurencekirk in Aberdeenshire.

Despite a worldwide grounding of Super Pumas since being lifted, the aircraft has not returned to service in the North Sea, with trade unions staunchly opposed to them ever being used again.

In light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising the S-92 has become the helicopter of choice. However, despite its strong track record, the aircraft has not been without its own issues.

The S-92 made headlines for the wrong reasons in 2016 when a helicopter spun on the West Franklin platform in the North Sea.

The incident saw the S-92 spin more than 180 degrees on the platform deck but no one was hurt.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch later found that had the fault happened any earlier the helicopter could have crashed into the sea.

Investigators later found there was a bearing failure in the tail rotor that engineers had not identified.

Sikorsky has taken a number of steps to improve safety since then, including the introduction of its real-time Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) to track the health of the aircraft.

The HUMS system is connected to S-92s around the world including the North Sea, which Sikorsky said allows it to predict events by analysing data from across the fleet in real time.

The data is assessed by Sikorsky engineers at a 24-hour customer service centre.

Ms Previte added: “Today with adding a HUMS sensor and through the various efforts that we released to our operators, we are confident that the S-92 pitch change shaft bearing situation is mitigated.

“Over the last three years we have invested tens of millions of dollars in data analytics. Our system reviews the data of our entire fleet and safety has improved so much.

“When that (tail spin) happened we communicated with all our customers to make sure that they were monitoring components in the right way. We are very, very confident in the S-92.”

Sikorsky’s S-92 fleet has carried out thousands of flight hours this year already, with almost 16,000 in March.

Of that, the energy sector accounted for nearly 14,000 hours and the Sikorsky is projecting this year will beat the 170,000 overall hours flown in 2017.

Ms Previte believes the S-92 will maintain its dominance in the North Sea, but will not sit idly.

She adds that the original S-92 is not the same model as today, and further developments are on the way for as technology progresses.

She said: “The S-92 is the industry leading standard and will remain for many decades to come. I would also say that the S-92 today is not the same one that was launched in 2004. We are always looking at product enhancement.

“We have technology developing in theatres of innovation that can be inserted into the S-92 and will ensure value to our customers and the people travelling in the helicopter.”

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THAI AVIATION SERVICES S-76D™ FLEET ACHIEVES 10,000 FLIGHT HOURS

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company (NYSE: LMT), today announced that Thai Aviation Services has accumulated 10,000 flight hours on its S-76D™ fleet in record time of less than two years.

This milestone was achieved just a few months after TAS began operating as Sikorsky’s first Customer Support Center in Thailand.

“We genuinely value the trust and confidence Thai Aviation Services has demonstrated in Sikorsky products over the past three decades,” said Audrey Brady, Sikorsky vice president of Commercial Systems & Services. “Sikorsky is extremely proud to provide TAS with safe, reliable aircraft to support such a high operational tempo with first-rate availability.”

TAS operates a total of eight Sikorsky helicopters, including five S-76D medium-lift helicopters, two S-92® heavy lift helicopters and one S-76C++™ helicopter. TAS has conducted its offshore operations for oil and gas producing companies for 30 years, utilizing Sikorsky helicopters exclusively.

Since 1977, Sikorsky has delivered more than 875 S-76® helicopters to customers around the world. The offshore oil transportation mission accounts for 65 percent of the more than 7.25 million hours flown by the entire Sikorsky S-76 fleet. The S-76 line of helicopters is also well-known for high reliability with VIP transportation and utility work, search and rescue operations and helicopter air ambulance transportation.

TAS is also forecasting that the flight of its 100,000th S-76D revenue passenger will occur later this fall.

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Farnborough 2018: UK coastguard lauds S-92 search-and-rescue helo

The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has praised the increased capability and reliability that the Sikorsky S-92 search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter has provided since it replaced the military’s Westland Sea Kings in 2015.

Speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow on 18 July, agency officials and helicopter crews highlighted the improvements that the 12 S-92s, operated by Bristow Helicopters Limited (BHL), have brought to the United Kingdom for maritime and overland airborne SAR.

“There is no fall back any longer, now that the military has gone from search and rescue. The MCA is the largest operator of aviation in the UK outside of the Ministry of Defence,” Damian Oliver, MCA aviation programme director, said, adding; “The S-92 is showing close to 100% availability at each of its [six] operating locations. It has a 250 n mile radius that takes it out to the edge of the UK’s rescue zone, and its 165 kt top speed leaves the Sea King for dust.”

The MCA has operated the S-92 since 2007, but it was in April 2015 that the type was tasked along with the AgustaWestland AW189 to fully take on the role of airborne SAR from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy (RN). BHL provides the service with S-92s located at Stornoway, Sumburgh, Newquay, Caernarfon, Humberside, and Inverness; and AW189s at Lee-on-Solent, Prestwick, St Athan, Inverness, and Manston (two helicopters at each location, with two more used for training). Since April 2015, the MCA has conducted 4,500 SAR missions using its S-92s. As Oliver noted, while the helicopters are flown for the MCA, some 52% of the missions are overland rather than maritime rescues.

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Sikorsky expands FSL, adds S-92 blade repair capability in Brazil

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, announced June 7 the relocation and expansion of its Brazil-based forward stocking location (FSL) at a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by local operator CEOs and Sikorsky officials. The strategic decision positions Sikorsky products closer to operators and further bolsters the company’s dedication to maximizing customers’ fleet availability.

The new location in Barra da Tijuca, close to the Jacarepaguá airport, will house nearly seven times the amount of stocked inventory than at the previous Multiterminais location. The move positions the FSL and Sikorsky aircraft parts in close proximity to Brazilian operators including Líder Aviação, Omni Helicopters International and CHC Helicopter.

Turn-around time for receiving parts is anticipated to improve from the current 24 hours to under two hours and will further reduce costs for Sikorsky operators.

Sikorsky also announced plans to add S-92 helicopter blade repair capability in Brazil.

Composite Technology do Brasil (CTB), a joint venture between Sikorsky-owned CTI and Líder Aviação, has been repairing S-76 rotor blades in Brazil since 1999. Within the next year, CTB will add S-92 blade repair capabilities as well, which will improve repair turn-around time and significantly reduce costs for S-92 operators in Brazil.

Having the capability to perform the repairs in-country eliminates taxes and fees associated with export and also removes at least 30 days of transit time from the overall repair schedule.

“Brazil is a key country for us — the heart of our commercial business in Latin America,” said Adam Schierholz, Sikorsky’s regional executive for Latin America. “Our fleet of S-92 and S-76 aircraft have operational availability rates of greater than 94 percent. As the Brazilian economy and offshore outlook recovers, we are listening to our customers, and taking steps to further increase those industry leading availability rates.”

Eight Brazilian commercial operators currently fly a total of 90 Sikorsky aircraft throughout the country.

The Barra da Tijuca site is one of four Sikorsky FSLs positioned to provide close support for commercial customers. The other sites are in Perth, Australia; Aberdeen, Scotland; and Stavanger, Norway.

 

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CAL Fire places purchase order for FIREHAWK® aircraft

United Rotorcraft, a division of Air Methods, and Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, today received a purchase order from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) for the acquisition of a new Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk aircraft, to be modified into FIREHAWK® firefighting configuration by United Rotorcraft. This aircraft will be the latest firefighting tool put into service with CAL FIRE to protect property and the citizens of California.

The purchase order follows a decision by the California Assembly and Senate budget subcommittees approving the budget for up to 12 of the aircraft to replace the state’s aging UH-1H fleet over the next five years. The Sikorsky manufactured S-70 is based on the legendary Black Hawk military helicopter, and is uniquely equipped to endure the unrelenting physical stresses demanded of the aerial firefighting and utility missions.

The FIREHAWK features next generation technology, which will provide substantial benefit to firefighting operators. Features include wide chord rotor blades for increased payload and maneuverability, a rugged airframe, digital glass cockpit with flight management system for improved situation awareness and precision hover capability using an enhanced global positioning system and an inertial navigation system. An Integrated Vehicle Health Management System monitors the aircraft’s operational health for preventive maintenance to detect anomalies for early maintenance.

“Igor Sikorsky founded our company with the vision of saving lives,” said Jeanette Eaton, Sikorsky regional sales executive for the United States and Canada.  “On a daily basis, the men and women of CAL FIRE put themselves in harm’s way to protect and save property, homes and lives. We are honored to have been selected as the best equipped aircraft to address California’s firefighting needs and provide the overall best value.  Even more so, we are humbled to play a role in their demanding mission and fulfilling Igor’s vision.”

Once assembled, the aircraft are modified by United Rotorcraft with a 1,000-gallon (3,785-liter) water tank equipped with a unique snorkel system for 60-second tank refill, extended landing gear, single pilot cockpit layout and a medically equipped interior, all of which arm the aircraft for its role as a multi-mission firefighting tool.

“United Rotorcraft and Sikorsky are honored to support CAL FIRE’s stewardship of over 31 million acres throughout California,” said Mike Slattery, president of United Rotorcraft. “As seasons have become longer and more severe, it’s crucial that California has these high-performance FIREHAWK helicopters, which allow initial attack capabilities that can knock down fires early before they spread widely.”

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