GDAT, one of China’s largest helicopter lessors and operators, has placed a landmark order for fifty H160 helicopters. This contract constitutes the largest order for the H160 on the civil and parapublic market since the helicopter was unveiled in 2015. (This article was published in issue 2826 of Airlines and Destinations).
50 H160 for GDAT
Fifty H160s ordered. The contract was announced on April 7, 2023, during French President Macron’s visit to China. Airbus Helicopters then signed a contract with GDAT, one of China’s largest helicopter lessors and operators, for 50 H160 helicopters. This contract is the largest order for the H160 on the civil and parapublic market since the helicopter was unveiled in 2015. The aircraft will notably be used in the energy sector, including offshore transport for oil platforms and gas, wind farms and port pilotage, as well as emergency medical services and other municipal public service missions. The two companies also signed a strategic cooperation agreement covering topics such as support and service capabilities, among others, to ensure the long-term success of the H160 in China. In June 2019, Shenzhen Eastern General Aviation Company, became a launch customer for the VIP version of the H160 in China, the ACH160.
ACH160 for TCH
This specific version of the helicopter made headlines during the Heli-Expo 2023 edition, which was held in Atlanta. First, because The Helicopter Company (THC) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken delivery of its first Airbus ACH160 helicopter. This aircraft is the first of six helicopters supplied by Airbus Corporate Helicopters in the ACH160 Line configuration. It will be used for business aviation services by Red Sea Global, which becomes the first ACH160 customer in the Middle East. Then, because Airbus Corporate Helicopters delivered the first example of the ACH160 helicopter Exclusive. This helicopter is not only the first ACH160 in Exclusive configuration to be delivered in the world, but also the first ACH160, all versions combined, to be delivered in Europe.
It was taken over by a private customer based in France and entered service immediately. The Exclusive configuration differs externally from the Line by its specific automatically folding step as well as its two non-sliding but hinged doors, opening like a car door. The Exclusive version also has a very special catalog of finishes, since the customer can considerably extend his choice in terms of customization, both in terms of the cabin and its interior as well as its trim, but also in terms of paint and of colors. On the other hand, the Line configuration is more classic, since it is a “normal” H160 but with specific cabin fittings.
Growing demand for H160 in North America
In North America, Airbus Helicopters continues to see growing demand for H160 helicopters, with more than a dozen H160s already ordered by North American customers to date to fulfill a range of missions. To support this growth and the aircraft’s entry into service, plans are now in place for the addition of the first H160 Full Flight Simulator (FFS) in North America. The FFS will be an essential training tool for the growing number of customers in North America and Latin America who have already placed orders. “For the Americans, this is a very positive signal, it means that we are involved (in the marketing of the machine) in the United States and that we are optimistic about the progress of the program”, comments one at Airbus Helicopters. Since it is a question of the United States, the FAA certification is advancing after a long period of immobilization and the helicopter manufacturer should obtain the type certificate this year. The machine experienced an involuntary delay, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coronavirus and certification
“When the FAA certification process was launched, it was almost immediately impacted by the effects of the virus,” comments Gilles Armstrong, H160 program manager. Put another way, for two and a half years, all of the exchanges and dialogues between Airbus Helicopters and the FAA were done on the basis of emails and videoconferences. “There was therefore no physical visit by inspectors or other FAA employees to verify the compliance of (the machine) with the regulations in force. This resulted in a significant delay,” adds Gilles Armstrong. The first exchanges or rather the first physical meetings with the FAA are quite recent. “Airbus Helicopters delivered the first H160 to PHI (Petroleum Helicopters International) last year, the FAA can rely on it to advance the certification process,” adds Gilles Armstrong. PHI is an operator with a fleet of more than 250 machines, both European and American, which operate in the Oil & Gas segments as well as emergency medical evacuations.
Orders in all segments
For the H160, Airbus Helicopters has recorded orders in almost all the mission segments planned for the H160: military missions, rescue, police, passenger transport (Energy and VIP) or even aerial photography. “The machines accumulate flight hours without surprises or worries, in particular thanks to the work or rather the number of operating hours accumulated by the DHC0 (Dynamic Helicopter Zero), one of the H160 test benches”, adds Gilles Armstrong. The objective being 3,000 simulated flight hours, the bench exceeded 1,000 flight hours. “It’s an excellent simulator of the aircraft’s behavior and allows us to learn in advance,” adds Gilles Armstrong. The fleet has also exceeded 1,000 flight hours, including pre-delivery aircraft.
Pégase for the National Gendarmerie
But the most recent version of the H160 and under development is none other than the Pégase, or the H160 intended for the national gendarmerie ordered in ten copies – which will also be used by highly specialized intervention units such as the GIGN or the Raid, which had moreover been presented in its splendid blue livery at the Milipol 2021 edition, in the form of a large-scale model – is currently under development. “This very complete public service version of the H160 will enter service in 2024, it will have an onboard mission system that will be able to gather all the information, process it, adapt to the operator’s choices behind the screens, to the user on the ground, to be able to retrieve or send the information collected to communicate it”, explains Gilles Armstrong. Airbus Helicopters is in the final assembly of the first three machines, the third has recently joined the two previous ones. In January 2023, the first Pegasus was powered up. “We did a lot of risk reduction tests, whether on the aerodynamic or vibration level, ground system tests, etc. before putting the whole thing together in flight”, adds Gilles Armstrong. The flights will take place all this year before the machine is put into service as part of the 2024 Olympics.