Helicopter modernization: the clock is tickingBased on the recent Honeywell’s study, the global helicopter market is constantly growing. Over the next four years alone, it is expected to welcome almost 5000 thousands of new choppers. At the same time, the owners of older model machines are faced with a dilemma: to modernize or to invest into fleet renewal. For them – the clock is ticking, as the existing fleet is currently on the edge of completing its calendar resource.

The rapid advances in technology allow not only creating innovative new products but also significantly improving the existing equipment. By introducing new upgrades and highly sophisticated system updates the life of a helicopter can be prolonged, the safety of its operation – increased and the deterioration of certain parts – considerably reduced. For instance, the primary purpose of the vibration reduction system is to improve the safety and comfort of operation; however, it also contributes to the reduced deterioration of other parts. Updating the navigation and night vision systems – another popular modernization – enables a significantly improved accuracy and a smoother flight, even when faced with unfavourable weather conditions. As a result, if the currently available modifications are installed professionally, a relatively old helicopter may easily compete with a brand new one. 

Needless to say, the improved process management translates into considerable monetary savings for the owner. For instance, in October the Australian Department of Defence decided to modernize 21 of its Tiger EC665 helicopters. They will be installed with the TDL tactical communications system, enabling to stream video in real time and instantly receive the nearby aircraft data. The works as concerns the modernization of such a fleet are valued at around USD 20 million. However, if the authority had decided to acquire new machines, it would have had to pay up to USD 45 million per unit (based on the prices in 2013).

In the meantime, such emerging markets, as China, Latin America and the CIS, are experiencing an increased popularity of Russian-built machines. Currently it is estimated that there are almost 12 000 of legendary Mi family machines in the regions. Since they are highly regarded for their high versatility and favourable technical characteristics, it should raise no eyebrows that their operators also are interested in maximally extending the machine’s lifetime. 

“Taking all the pros into consideration, it is not surprising that many managers opt for modernization instead of fleet expansion nowadays. After all, the several modernization Anatolij Legenzov, CEO of Helisotaprograms of Мi-8s and Mi-17s helicopters can extend their calendar resources by another 10-15 years, not to mention the fact that it is way cheaper than to buy new machines. For example, in 2013 the average cost of a military helicopter reached USD 37 million. In comparison, the price per single phase of modernization was approx. 10 times lower,” comments Anatolij Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota. 

Thus, recently, it has been announced that Mexico, which operates 19 multi-purpose Mi-17s and two Mi-8Ts, is ready to modernize the regiment of its military helicopters. Ukraine is yet another country seriously considering helicopter modernizations. The current wave of helicopter fleet modernization should soon reach Africa, too. With its difficult terrain and highly specific infrastructure issues the use of aircraft in the continent is only likely to increase. It is noteworthy that already today it operates significant number of military and civilian Mi-8Ts. Meanwhile, there are many of civilian and military helicopters in the Middle East, which is expected to catch the bug of modernization any time soon. 

„Despite all of the deserved hype, those opting for helicopter modernization are faced with a number of productivity-related challenges. One of the key problems is the shortage of certain technical components and spare parts. For instance, the market is hungry for more resources as concerns transmission, combined control units, electronic systems and other parts. Many of them are not even produced any more,” comments Anatolij Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota. “The MRO market players must also invest into the development of a sound spare parts storage management process to ensure adequate availability of components to meet the growing demand of helicopter maintenance and modernization services. It will play a significant part in the future of aircraft modernization.”

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