Helitech Roundup – Did we need a heliport?

Helitech Roundup – Did we need a heliport?

7-Oct-2013 Source: HeliHub.com

On 21st September 2012, HeliHub.com broke the story to the industry that Helitech was moving from Duxford to London’s ExCeL conference centre, and being renamed “Helitech International”.  It was not until 4th October, some 13 days later, that Helitech organisers Reed issued a press release  to confirm the HeliHub.com  scoop, some four days earlier than their planned date.

When Reed Conferences announced that their Helitech event – hastily renamed Helitech International to justify the city centre move – was going to be at ExCeL, most of the industry realised that was a game changer to the event.  HeliHub.com has already analyised the exhibition side of things in this article, now we turn our review to the heliport.

One of the clear advantages of Duxford (and Redhill in years prior) was the ease of visiting by helicopter, and the immediate availability for demonstration flights.  Moving to a city centre location almost exactly beneath the flight path of an airport, was never going to be an easy one to sell.

Visitors – On good weather days, there were typically 50+ visitors at Duxford, and the peak was around 80 on a single day – including some who flew from Netherlands and Belgium.  With Helitech moving to London, the organisers set up an agreement with Damyns Hall airfield and provided a free shuttle bus service between there and the conference centre.  While the poor visibility early in the day on both the Tuesday and Wednesday were no help, the total landing numbered just 10 – three on Wednesday and seven on Thursday.  We are sure this would be significantly higher if the event was at an airfield location

Demonstration flights – Determined to minimise the impact of moving from Duxford, Reed set up a heliport at the east end of the ExCeL buildings for demo flights.  Arrangements were made with neighbouring London City Airport – where movements peak early morning and from late afternoon – and NATS as controller of the London ATZ.  Provisions were put in place for demo flights at ten minute intervals over a six hour slot while London City had a traffic lull between 10am and 4pm.  36 slots a day for three days.  Total 108 slots.  Looking at the manufacturers, they used these 108 slots as follows

  • AgustaWestland – no demo flights
  • Bell – a corporate 429 was available for two days and did a handful of flights each day
  • Eurocopter – no demo flights – held their own demo flights the week before at their UK base Oxford Airport.
  • MD Helicopters – no demo aircraft available
  • Sikorsky – did not have an aircraft at the event

In simple terms, practically not used at all, perhaps 10% of the available slots as a maximum.  So maybe we do not need a heliport after all?  If the event is turning into a B2B trade show, then the people who attend will have sufficient information to make the key decisions, and any self-respecting manufacturer (or national representative thereof) will do a demo flight as and where needed.  But what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Less opportunity to fly means less movements.  So to take that to the extreme, Helitech moves in 2014 to a conference centre in central Amsterdam with zero space to land.  All exhibits will have to come in and out by road, and that likely means less airframes in the show.  Is this “dumbing down” or progress?

The ExCeL helipad – Primarily used to get all the exhibition aircraft in and out, this was a token effort by Reed to say they had the potential for demo flights.  But how pilot-friendly was it?  How many pilots would readily land in a cleared car park like this?  The Bell 429 demonstrator is parked about 7m blade tip clearance from a rather tall and immovable lamp stand, with other lamp stands scattered around – see below.  Clearly there was enough space to get an AW101 in and out safely, but with buildings on three sides, and those lamp stands, it has to be marginal in anything but calm conditions.  If there had been a decent breeze on the two days before the exhibition, Reed could have ended up red-faced with no helicopters in the exhibition at all – that’s some risk, and perhaps why they have chosen the city-centre site in Amsterdam.

Do we need a heliport?

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Note the airliner in the photo above below 50ft ready for touchdown (just to the left of the lampstand over on the right).  This second photo shows how close the helipads were to the active approach of London City Airport – the Bell 429 is in the same location for both photos.  .

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Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com

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