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Erickson is banking on more than 150 buyers for a souped-up version of the S-64F Air Crane driven by increased demand for the behemoth’s firefighting and heavy construction capabilities in coming years.
“Based on what we’ve seen in the market, we think that there’s a market demand of at least 50 to 100 airframes in the world,” chief executive Doug Kitani said Jan. 28 at HAI’s 2020 Heli-Expo. “A very, very significant increase in the number of airframes today.”
The company is developing an enhanced version of the aircraft called the S-64F+ that will feature new, more-modern full-authority digital electronic control (FADEC) engines, composite main rotor blades, advanced cockpit avionics and flight control system and an improved water cannon.
Prioritizing upgrades to the existing fleet of about 50 aircraft, there is a mixed government/commercial market for another 50 to 100 aircraft, Kitani said. Government customers, particularly Italy, South Korea, Greece and Australia will account for the bulk of those orders, followed by commercial customers.
“We’re seeing things like in the firefighting realm where there’s not enough aircraft to go around. . . . Where operators used to go between northern and southern hemisphere, we’re seeing that model break down. We saw that this year, [with] the tragic fires in Australia,” Kitani said. “There’s significant demand, mostly from sovereign customers but we think commercial customers will follow and build out bigger fleets with more capability.”
An aircraft that can demonstrate the functionality Erickson and its intended customers are after could be flying within three to four years because much of the technology Erickson wants to incorporate is available, Kitani said. Certifying the various upgrades could be done through a “combo” supplemental type certificate, he said.
“What we found in the last year-plus as we dug into this is the technology to accomplish what we want is out there, and it’s really a systems integration exercise,” Kitani said. “We don’t see a huge amount of technology risk, but we are going to focus on the things that we think are important for bringing the aircraft to market sooner rather than later.”