Helicopters on the up

posted on 9th May 2022
Helicopters on the up

Elsewhere in this edition Frederic Lemos, Head of Airbus Corporate Helicopters, reports hearing from customers keen to use helicopters where they might previously have been happy with a long car journey, because of Covid concerns. It is a trend Flying Colours has also observed, in the form of renewed interest in its helicopter cabin refurbishment expertise.
“We recently had a request for a Sikorsky S-92 refurbishment into a VIP format and anticipate seeing more helicopters over the next couple of years as people reshape the way they travel in our post-pandemic world,” Gillespie says.
Helicopter cabins are typically smaller and quite differently shaped to business jet interiors and, again reflecting Lemos’ thoughts, Gillespie notes: “Helicopters operate shorter flights than jets and can often be compared with a large SUV in terms of size, so the interior design is frequently influenced by the automotive industry. As a VIP passenger transitions from car to helicopter there can be common elements, but on a jet the design palette expands.”
To some extent there are similar considerations in designing helicopter and jet cabins insofar as it is imperative to optimise space and combine form with function for a practical solution. But there are important differences. “For example, a customer may have requested a particular seat design but factoring in the combined downward and forward forces may mean that internally a helicopter cabin needs to incorporate specific features while externally it meets the owner’s expectations. Vibration and noise are typically greater in a helicopter than on a jet, so designs that reduce their impact are essential. High-quality dampening is also imperative and noise-cancelling headphones are a must.
“Our overall philosophy for design remains the same though,” Gillespie goes on. “We ask about mission, range, frequency of flight, passenger numbers, and then work with owners or operators to achieve their desired end result. We want to bring their vision to life, while adhering to regulations, safety and available materials.”
Like jet owners, those with VIP helicopters want elegantly designed interiors that are comfortable and include connectivity and entertainment options. Managing these requirements within a helicopter’s operational limitations and available cabin space inevitably dictates what is possible, setting parameters within which Flying Colours works.
Other, less immediately obvious needs that Gillespie notes include durability, which is often a factor for commercial operators working in harsh environments with frequent turnarounds. It is also not unusual for larger VIP cabins to include a lavatory and galley-type stowage area for refreshments. Requests for the Collins Aerospace Airshow moving map system are not unheard of, but the cost of installing and operating the system means they are uncommon.
Gillespie says passengers want to travel seamlessly from point to point, remaining connected at all times, but while it is possible to provide Internet connectivity to helicopters, the options are limited. Their typically smaller airframes restrict antenna size, while rotors interfere with satellite signals – and, since helicopters fly lower than jets, satellite signals may be lost in weather or topography, while in remote areas, or over water, at low level, there may be no signal at all.
However, some of those limitations are now being addressed. Gillespie reports: “With the growth of the LEO [low earth orbit] satellite sector, the increasing demand for digital tools and data transmission, and advances in antenna and hardware technology, the options for helicopter connectivity are growing. Gogo’s air-to-ground is a good option for North American aircraft and the Iridium NEXT constellation, through the Certus platform, can also support rotary needs with hardware from Honeywell and Satcom Direct.”