Australian R44 operators face grounding

Australian operators of Robinson R44 helicopters faced being grounded at the end of April if they had not fitted their aircraft with upgraded fuel tanks designed to reduce the risk of post-accident fire. In early April, when the Civil Aviation Safety Authority issued the directive, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau had assessed that about 100 Australian R44 helicopters would not meet the service bulletin by the deadline.
A service bulletin recommending the helicopter’s all-aluminium fuel tanks be replaced with a bladder-type tank was first issued by the manufacturer in December 2010, with a deadline of 30 April 2013. “All R44 helicopter operators have been given ample notice of this requirement,” says CASA, which issued an airworthiness bulletin in June 2012 strongly recommending the fuel tank be fitted at the earliest opportunity, a subsequent reminder in February and another letter to operators in March.
The fuel tank upgrade follows a series of accidents involving R44s in which the all-aluminium fuel tank ruptured, resulting in a fuel-fed fire after the impact. Bladder tanks substantially reduce the risk of a post-impact fire.
In the latest accident involving the type, in March in New South Wales, an R44 caught fire after striking a tree and colliding with the ground. The pilot and three passengers died in the crash. The ATSB says the accident is consistent with two recent R44 accidents in Australia where the all-aluminium fuel tank ruptured after a low energy impact, resulting in a fire after impact.
“The fitment of bladder-type fuel tanks to R44 helicopters is a very important safety enhancement that could save lives and is very strongly encouraged,” says the ATSB. – Emma Kelly

Eurocopter makes its mark in Asia-Pacific

Eurocopter has had a busy month in the Asia-Pacific region, with new orders from Malaysia and deliveries to Japan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
The manufacturer secured a memorandum of understanding at the Langkawi Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition in Malaysia in late March from Weststar Aviation Services for two EC225s.
Weststar Aviation Services provides general aviation charter services, personal transport, aerial utility services and offshore transport. The group currently operates seven Eurocopter helicopters in a total fleet of 34. Weststar is building up its fleet to be deployed around the world.
The new helicopters will enter service in 2014 in the global oil and gas market.
Meanwhile, the manufacturer has delivered an AS365 N3 helicopter equipped with a high-speed, real-time transmission system using Earth-orbiting relay satellites to Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) for crisis response and co-ordination.
The Helicopter Satellite Communication System (HSA), developed by Mitsubishi Electric, allows direct transmission to satellites without interruption from a helicopter’s moving rotor blades and relays data to ground receiving stations. It is the first installation of the system. The helicopter entered service with the FDMA in April.
In addition, Eurocopter has made a breakthrough in the Bangladeshi civil helicopter market with the delivery of its first helicopter to the country. The EC130 B4, the first of two of the type, was delivered in late March to private helicopter operator R&R Aviation, following an order at last year’s Singapore air show. The helicopter is being used for emergency medical services and humanitarian support.
Eurocopter also demonstrated an AS350 B3e for two days in Dhaka. “We see a promising future for the demand and deployment of helicopters in both the civil and governmental markets in Bangladesh,” says Eurocopter South East Asia president Eric Toussaint.
The AS350 B3e was on its way to Kathmandu, Nepal, for delivery to Shree Airlines, the country’s biggest helicopter operator. Shree provides services for United Nations humanitarian missions for rations distribution and passenger transport. Shree is increasing its fleet to expand its EMS operations and for tourism services in Nepal. – Emma Kelly

 News In Brief
Australian aircraft sales and services provider Hawker Pacific has delivered a Bell 407 helicopter to an operator in North Queensland for use in utility operations. Hawker Pacific is expanding its work in the pre-owned market. “Private, special mission and utility needs are continuing to drive the helicopter market, with single and twin turbine helicopters expected to represent a higher percentage of deliveries across the next decade,” says Tony Jones, senior vice-president, Aircraft Sales and Flight Services Group.

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