PHI & Shell discuss 8-month ‘route-proving’ program with H160 in U.S.

Avatar for Oliver JohnsonBy Oliver Johnson | March 8, 2022

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 14 seconds.

PHI and Shell have released more details of the innovative “route proving” program they will begin with Airbus later this year to launch the H160 in the U.S.

An Airbus H160 flies in PHI livery. The aircraft will soon travel to the U.S. to complete certification efforts with the FAA. Airbus Photo
An Airbus H160 flies in PHI livery. The aircraft will soon travel to the U.S. to complete certification efforts with the FAA. Airbus Photo

The aircraft will begin operations with PHI once it has been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration — a long-awaited step that Airbus hopes to finally complete this summer. With certification in hand, the aircraft will start the route-proving program with PHI over the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s a pretty comprehensive use of the aircraft, pretty much simulating everything we’re going to be doing when we move to commercial operations,” Keith Mullett, managing director of PHI Aviation, told journalists during a pre-show briefing about the program.

“We’ll also be looking at how we operate the aircraft. It’s a very, very advanced aircraft, with a lot of technology on board, and I think getting that right — getting our operating procedures correct and getting the most from the aircraft, especially the safety features — is going to be really important.”

The program will last about eight months, with data flowing between Shell (the customer), PHI, and Airbus.

“We’ve never done anything like this before that I’m aware of,” said Mullett. “We generally buy a brand new helicopter and put it into service a few weeks after it’s delivered. So thankfully, with Shell’s support and with Airbus’s support, we’re able to do something like this, [which is] really paving the way for a more successful introduction.”

PHI has an initial order for four H160s, all destined for operation in the Gulf of Mexico. The aircraft is a 12-seater in oil-and-gas configuration — occupying a “popular part of the market,” said Mullett, filling a role that is currently provided by the Sikorsky S-76 and Leonardo AW139.

“It generally works the best flying to offshore platforms that are below about 110 nautical miles from shore,” said Mullett. “So that’s how we’ll be using it in the Gulf of Mexico, and that’s how we would intend to use it elsewhere around the world.”

Both Shell and PHI see the H160 as offering a potential benefit in their drive to reduce emissions — Shell is targeting a 50 percent reduction in its own operations by 2030, while PHI is announcing its sustainability program at Heli-Expo and developing supply chains to bring sustainable aviation fuels into its operations.

“[We] see a responsibility to take a leadership role in this area, whether it’s from the general decarbonization as an energy producer, or in the adoption of new technologies to enable that, for which the H160 falls in very nicely,” said Tony Cramp, managing director of Shell Aircraft.

He added that the H160’s anticipated high utilization rate was also very appealing.

“If you look at the utilization for helicopters at the moment — compared with a fixed-wing equivalent — it’s incredibly low,” he said. “We really need to be getting to a point where we’re using those aircraft for more hours of each day, and so the maintenance cost, manpower cost that the [H]160 promises, is one of the big factors that makes it attractive.”

Cramp said Shell believed the H160 would “deliver right across the board” for the company. “It’s raising the bar in terms of safety, its operational abilities, and obviously the environmental footprint as well,” he said. “The relationship we have with Airbus — the access we’ve been given to the design to the manufacturing maturity process —gives us that level of confidence.”

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