The Helitech International Education Programme kicked off today with the informative Business Leaders Forum, the conference session that has become a defining factor of the event’s thought leadership platform.
The panel of industry experts taking part included David Balevic, Senior Vice President, Engineering & Operations, CHC; Glenn Isbell, Senior Vice President Customer Support and Services, Bell Helicopters; Jim Payton, V.P. Customer Business, Civil Helicopters and Light Turboprops, Rolls-Royce Corporation and Mike Platt, Chief Executive Officer, Lease Corporation International. Session moderator Aoife O’Sullivan, Head of Aircraft Finance, Kennedys, steered discussions expertly.
Their presentations covered the key issues facing the rotorcraft industry today, and probing questions from the audience led to interesting discussions. Most significantly, the global drop in oil prices is having an adverse effect on demand for rotorcraft, with a consequent fall in production. However, Mike Platt identified growth opportunities in the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) and Search & Rescue (S&R) sectors that have helped maintain the overall health of the industry. S&R is growing as oil & gas operations move increasingly offshore, requiring bigger and more productive helicopters. Diversification into offshore mining also offers opportunities.
He also described the enormous growth potential in the HEMS sector in China, which has only 0.3 helicopters operating per million head of population compared with 43 in the USA. Factors such as government air space restrictions, prohibitive insurance and privatization issues have hindered rotorcraft businesses expansion, but the situation is easing.
Jim Payton offered a different angle, stressing the current priority at Rolls-Royce to power a greener footprint through innovation. This involves building or redesigning facilities to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable to save utility costs. He said that great minds within the industry are researching new technologies such as electric/hybrid electric engines, using turboshafts to achieve efficiency gains, and technology enablers like alternative fuels such as bio-fuels. The industry have set themselves ambitious targets through the ‘Flightpath 2050’ initiative that aims to reduce emissions and aircraft noise by 50-60% by 2050.
Two other key subjects discussed were safety improvements and industry collaboration. Where the latter is concerned it was the general view of the panel that the level of collaboration within the industry is refreshing, with behaviors such as the sharing of incident data helping to drive safety improvements. This, in turn, produced customer satisfaction and was good for the general health of the sector.
Jim Balevic described a number of technology enablers that have aided safety improvements. Those introduced by CHC Helicopters include the Airline Information Management System (AIMS), Automated Maintenance and Overhaul System (AMOS), and Operational Flight Planning System (OFPS). Glenn Isbell stated that the majority of accidents are caused by human error, so integrating technology that can improve safety into platforms and re–training pilots is an important challenge.
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