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Sikorsky pushes ahead with S-92 upgrade as it continues to work supply chain problems

By Elan Head | February 28, 2024

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 1 seconds.

Sikorsky claims it remains on track to certify its S-92A+ variant in 2025 as it works to resolve supply chain challenges for the S-92 by the end of this year.

Leon Silva, Sikorsky’s vice president of Global Commercial and Military Systems, provided the update to reporters at HAI Heli-Expo 2024. Silva first announced 2025 as the target certification date for the A+ at last year’s Heli-Expo, when he also said that Sikorsky was indefinitely shelving plans for a B model.

Silva said the company has been seeing “increased interest” in the S-92A+ from a range of customers, “and that includes not only offshore interest . . . but also VVIP, head of state, and search-and-rescue.” The A+ will become the standard for new-build S-92 helicopters and also be available as a modification kit.

“We already have some orders for those upgrade kits and the next set of agreements is available for delivery in 2026,” Silva said.

The core feature of the S-92A+ is an upgraded main rotor gearbox with a redundant lubrication system that Sikorsky calls Phase IV. Silva said that Sikorsky has now validated the ability for the gearbox to fly more than 400 nautical miles (740 kilometers) following the loss of the primary oil system.

“The gearbox has been tested, and actually even with the presence of the FAA,” he said. “And we’ve gotten over seven hours on this gearbox, which is basically longer than the aircraft has fuel.”

While the A+ program made, he said, “a ton of progress” in 2023, Sikorsky has been struggling to keep its existing S-92 fleet in the air. At last year’s Heli-Expo, Silva said that the S-92 availability rate had fallen into the “high 80s.” This year, he avoided giving a precise figure, but acknowledged that the S-92 availability rate has “decreased slightly from a year ago.” He said the historical rate is 94 percent, and “we anticipate being around that point towards the end of this year.”

“Much like other OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], Sikorsky has experienced unprecedented supply chain challenges, and we’re certainly still in the midst of that recovery,” he said. “Related to a large extent to the large S-92 fleet and the utilization rates that our customers are using, and the fact that a significant number of aircraft that were in storage going back three years have been brought back into operation, our team has been feeling a lot of pressure as far as keeping up with the demands of the customers.”

He rejected a suggestion that Sikorsky has lost the trust of its offshore customer base, which has flagged safety risks associated with the acute shortage of S-92 parts, notably main gearboxes.

“I personally don’t believe there’s a trust issue. We have very, very regular updates with our operators. We are very, very transparent,” he said, adding that Sikorsky has taken customers and operators to the supply base to show them “where the challenges are and where the bottlenecks are.”

“The important thing to know is that Sikorsky supply chain experts and our suppliers are diligently working to move parts and meet that demand. It takes a bit of time but we are certainly and definitely making progress with that,” he said.

Sikorsky delivered 69 aircraft in 2023, but only three of them were S-92s. Silva said the company is currently executing another three contracts for S-92s, all of those for head of state customers. The current lead time for a new, offshore-configured S-92 is around 36 months.

The company has not yet decided on a location for final assembly of the S-92A+, but “it’s really not a big deal because we have a lot of options,” Silva said. Sikorsky closed its final assembly lines for the S-92 and S-76 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in 2022.

Sikorsky also delivered three S-76D helicopters in 2023, having ceased taking new orders for the model the year before. Silva said the company continues to look for outside partners to “extend the legacy and continue the future of the S-76 fleet.”

“I can’t be too specific, but we have actually extended our engagement with more organizations,” he said of these discussions. “There’s actually more interest this year than there was in the past. And so what we’re doing right now is kind of pausing for a second and trying to decide where our best strategic approach is.”

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