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Air bp
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
Me & my aircraft: Lower maintenance and greater payload are top of twin helicopter operators' wish lists
For this latest report in our ongoing 'Me & My Aircraft' series we talked to owners of some of the many twin turbine helicopters in current operation to gauge their satisfaction.

For this latest report in our ongoing 'Me & My Aircraft' series we talked to owners of some of the many twin turbine helicopters in current operation to gauge their satisfaction. We selected the owners of all 4,383 helicopters in Europe and the Middle East and provided a private web form where they could deposit their innermost thoughts. We asked about maintenance support, dispatch reliability, operating capabilities and value for money, and gave a chance to comment more widely.

Only EBAN readers who we have verified as current users of a particular helicopter type were given access to the survey forms. Our brief overview of the wide variety of helicopters available in this competitive sector includes our readers' thoughts and opinions about the aircraft of which they have personal, hands-on experience.

It seems that maintenance issues are the most common cause for complaint, which should be no surprise when dealing with machines as complex as modern helicopters. However, overall performance, especially of the newest models, gets a general thumbs up from our expert readers. Next month we will be looking at light jets, so please look out for our invitation to take part.

Eurocopter EC135

The EC135 is the most prevalent twin helicopter in Europe and the Middle East, with a registered fleet of almost 600 examples in 27 countries. The largest fleets are with emergency service and offshore operators. It has seating for seven, including two pilots, or six in vip configuration.

EC135 owners and operators responding to our survey praised the helicopter for its ease of maintenance, support and particularly its dispatch reliability. "We work it very hard in police operations," says Keith Sturgess of Western Counties AOU. "It is well suited for police operations."

He adds that the most desirable upgrade might be an increase in AUW, although this would be too expensive. This mirrors the comments of other users, including one corporate operator who would like to see the transmission upgraded to support a supplementary payload.

The EC135 has a lot of gadgets for a small helicopter, says one respondent, and is very expensive, while another is unhappy with the main shaft and "the recent AD which is to be complied with every 10 hours."

Agusta Westland A109

The A109 is in widespread use, with over 450 in total in 28 countries.

It is most common in Italy, where it is manufactured, and in the UK where there are now well over 60 owner/operators. Notable large fleets around Europe are those of Helicopteros de Cataluna (about 20 aircraft), Castle Air in the UK and Swiss Air Ambulance.

It has seating for up to eight people including crew, or has a five/six place club seating configuration. The A109S Grand has a larger cabin and the option of a luxury interior.

John O'Sullivan of Premier Helicopters flies the A109E, and would like to benefit from a larger cabin as well as an increase in payload or Cat A. In common with the majority of owners replying to our survey he is satisfied with the maintenance support on offer.

There is also broad agreement as to the best attribute of the A109, which is clearly its performance, and more specifically, speed. "The earlier A109s were underpowered," says David George of UK distributor Sloane Helicopters. "But the Power, the Grand and the Grand New now do what it says on the tin."

Critics of the A109 have concerns about its capacity, reporting that it is not always possible to carry a full fuel load. Also tailboom cracks and generator issues; cabin volume and maintenance costs are singled out for attention.

"It offers outstanding value for money when compared with the EC135 or the MD 902," says George. "It would be great if it cost even less!" For one operator the most desirable upgrade is simple: "I would change our Grand for a Grand New."

Bell 412

In service for over 30 years now, the Bell 412 is the four-blade development of the model 212. Its large cabin can accommodate up to 14 passengers.

There are around 370 in operation in 18 countries across Europe and the Middle East.

The Bell 412 is extremely popular in the United Arab Emirates, where Abu Dhabi Aviation, the Dubai Air Wing and Falcon Aviation Services have sizeable fleets.

Among a mixed fleet, Thomas Muensterer of HDM, a part of German emergency operation DRF, uses HP and EP variants for inter-hospital transfer of intensive care patients, for emergency rescue operations and to transport physicians and equipment, in day and night operations. He considers the 412 to be a reliable helicopter, but is currently very unhappy with maintenance support after waiting for parts for some six months.

Some feedback was also received on other Bell models, and spare parts availability problems were a common theme. The best attribute of the Bell 230 is reported to be its wide cabin, while the Bell 427 is seen as good value for money.

Eurocopter AS365 and AS355

Flying for over 40 years, the AS365 series has been continuously developed, and carried on today in the form of the N3 version and the EC155. There are 340 in service around Europe and the Middle East, and the type is most prevalent in Italy, France (where Heli-Union has the largest fleet at 28) and the UK.

Surprisingly, given the number of aircraft, we received little feedback from operators in our survey.

The same was the case for the AS355 Twin Squirrel, which is a helicopter well suited to operations in the UK it seems, as there are well over 40 owner/operators there.

Sikorsky S-76

The choice of royalty throughout the region, from the British Royal household to the Bahrain Royal Flight, the S-76 has grown in numbers to about 250 in Europe and the Middle East.

Mehmet Yuksel Hocaoglu of Swan Aviation is happy with his S-76C++ because it has a good reputation and low noise levels in the cabin, and one anonymous UK-based corporate operator agrees: "It has a smooth comfortable ride, is quiet inside, and has easy access."

But the power and available payload are the factors which appeal most to Richard Cove of Cardinal Helicopter Services (IOM). He is happy with virtually every aspect of S-76 operations, but disappointed by the amount of maintenance required. His most desirable upgrade would be a Universal flight management system, while others would appreciate more fuel capacity.

The best upgrade for Swan Aviation would be the step up from S-76C++ to S-76D, or the Agusta A139, says Hocaoglu. He adds that he believes new EASA regulations, as well as domestic restrictive regulation in Turkey, are killing the edge that the helicopters have against fixed wing.

EBAN also received feedback about the larger Sikorsky S-92, praised for its capacity and range, albeit at a high price.

Agusta Westland AW139

As well as achieving great domestic success in Italy, the AW139 is popular in the UK, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Spain. There are now over 220 in Europe and the Middle East.

Susanne H Lastein of Danish operator Bel Air Aviation is a great cheerleader for the AW139, having recently put two into service in offshore configuration. "They have excellent performance, are flexible in configuration and comply with the latest EASA requirements. The manufacturer is open to new solutions from the customer," she reports.

Another respondent to our survey, using the AW139 for medical missions, has more mixed opinions. He is very happy with the operating capabilities in very hard conditions with ice and turbulence, but feels let down by parts support and, in particular, "a large problem with tail rotor blades." Tailboom and rotor problems are also cited by Chris Tamerius Antrobus of Swiss-Jet, who has both short and long-nose variants and praises the spacy cabin.

Eurocopter EC145

There are now over 130 EC145 helicopters in service around Europe and the Middle East, the great majority in government, ambulance or police service. The largest populations are in France and Germany, but the model has made inroads to the east with a variety of operators in Russia and Ukraine too.

The manufacturer is keen to emphasise the EC145's high in-service time due to the low level of scheduled maintenance required, but the best aspects according to our readers are the avionics suite and auto pilot, in addition to the spacious cabin. One reports satisfaction with the maintenance support available, but says that some modification is needed for the heating of the cabin.

There is general satisfaction with performance as well, although "for hot and high conditions you still have performance difficulties on take offs."

Negative comments related to maintenance costs and a mast moment problem, especially on unprepared areas to land/take offs. A greater choice of seat coverings, colours and interior options would be appreciated too.

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