The MD 900/902 is in service in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the UK, with German and UK police and ambulance operators accounting for the majority.
Most UK police forces tend to favour the MD 902 Explorer or the EC135, according to respondents to the EBAN survey. Mick Dunn, executive officer with the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) helicopter unit, says: "The MD 902 Explorer provides an excellent platform for using equipment to carry out policing roles. Power is important but it isn't just about power, it is about the whole package and the framework for the services, maintenance and engine support is excellent for the MD 902."
GMP is using its second Explorer for missions that total around 1,200 flying hours a year. Its first, which carried out 8,000 hours airborne work in seven years for the force, is now in service with Essex and Herts Air Ambulance.
Dunn says: "The support package we have for the MD 902 is such that we are very happy with the maintenance and availability of spare parts. The operating capability is good: we work the MD 902 pretty hard. The all-round visibility from the aircraft is also very good." The MD 902 is equipped with the latest technology including FLIR thermal imaging systems.
Essex and Herts Air Ambulance (EHAA) brought the aircraft into service in November 2008 and is aiming to carry out about 300 flying hours in the first year. EHAA says: "It is operational five days a week currently and we aim to increase that to seven days next year providing charitable income allows. It is maintained by Medical Aviation Services, Staverton. We are very happy with engineering response, the aircraft has been very reliable to date and we have no issues with spares."
EHAA says the MD 902 Explorer's strengths include its large cabin area and 6,500 lb MTW. "It is quiet in its class and is a particularly safe aircraft for landing in congested areas." But EHAA would like to see NVIS on new aircraft as standard and a reduction in scheduled service intervals.
Heli Austria's Roy Knaus is satisfied with the maintenance support and value of the MD 900. He is also very satisfied with the dispatch reliability and operating capability. "The best aspects are the low noise factor and the spacious cabin but the worst thing is that costs for parts have increased substantially over the past few years and there is no power by the hour for the airframe components available. The most desirable upgrade would be 207E engines (as used on the MD 902)."
The UK's Specialist Aviation Services, parent company to public service air support firms Police Aviation Services (PAS) and Medical Aviation Services (MAS), claims the MD 902 Explorer outperforms its competitors. Nigel Lemon, director sales and marketing, says: "Our company provides comprehensive 24-7 UK-wide maintenance for the MD 902 Explorer as well as approved third party engineer and pilot rating/ conversion training courses. Our police and air ambulance end users all very satisfied with the dispatch reliability. It is very close to the 100% mark taking into account weather and other factors such as scheduled maintenance which sometimes get included and skew the figures."
He says the company owns six MD 902s with three more on order. "In total, we operate and support over 20 MD 902s in the UK in the air ambulance and police role, plus a couple of the aircraft operated on a private or corporate basis. A couple are the older MD 900 model but the majority are the MD 902."
Lemon says he is very satisfied with the operating capability. "The aircraft outperforms its competitors including the EC135 in payload, safety and useable cabin space. It is also significantly quieter."
He adds: "It is similar in both capital cost and DOCs to its rivals so the superior performance makes it good value for money. The MD 902's best aspect is its operating capability. Its payload capability and transit-van cabin space make it ideal for police and air ambulance work. Low noise makes it environmentally friendly and internally, low noise and vibration minimises crew fatigue."
Lemon says many of the MD 902's newer features have been incorporated as standard since 2008, such as increased MAUW to 6,500 lbs, air conditioning and auxiliary tank. "The next thing is possibly an instrument upgrade, but the current fit is perfectly acceptable as it was designed with a semi-glass cockpit in the first place."
Since 2000, the SAS group has been owned by Elite Helicopters Holding NV (previously RDM Aerospace BV), a Dutch industrial concern that also owns a significant interest in MD Helicopters Inc. MDHI manufactures the MD 902 Explorer. The group has been based at Gloucestershire airport since 1991. It has recently expanded to new, purpose-built facilities almost 3,000 square metres in area.
Peter Moeller reports favourably on the 900 and 902. He says he is satisfied with the value and maintenance support and very satisfied with the dispatch reliability and operating capability. "The best aspects include the NOTAR system, big cabin, low vibration level, small outside dimensions and greater power. The worst thing is the non-availability of a full flight simulator for pilot training. There is still no full flight simulator available to support the training and recurrent training of pilots on the 900 series."
Moeller says the aircraft could do with an upgrade kit to convert 900 into 902 to fully comply with PC requirements of JAR-OPS 3.