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Swiss operator Alpinlift Helikopter AG has become the second launch customer of the Marenco Swisshelicopter SKYe SH09, after placing an order for two of the new single-engine 2.5-tonne aircraft at HAI Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas, Texas.
Marenco now has more than 90 letters of intent (LOIs) and 10 orders for the SKYe SH09, and is working to translate more of those LOIs into firm commitments.
Buochs, Switzerland-based Alpinlift, which offers flightseeing, VIP, heliskiing and cargo transport flights, joins Air Zermatt as one of the launch customers for the SH09. As such, it will help guide the development of the aircraft as it approaches its certification configuration, and provide detailed feedback to the manufacturer once the aircraft enters service.
“We want to be able to deliver an aircraft to the market which is as mature as possible and it’s the reason we are searching for partnerships . . . with operators who allow us to mature the aircraft in real environments, the most demanding environments,” said Andreas Löwenstein, CEO of Marenco Swisshelicopter. “It’s the reason we are very proud about Alpinelift. Like Air Zermatt, they are flying in probably the most complex environments, so if we manage to satisfy them we are sure that our aircraft is totally mature for normal missions.”
In terms of the aircraft’s development, the first two prototypes have logged 25 flight hours, “but all the components have been turning hundreds of hours on test benches,” said Löwenstein. A third prototype is due to start flight testing in the coming months, and it will be joined by a fourth “pre-series” aircraft early next year.
While the design of the second prototype required fairly substantial changes to the rotorhead and control cables, Löwenstein said the third prototype would not require any major evolution.
“We are stabilizing the configurations now,” he said. “At one point you have to freeze the development, which is almost done. We have done some improvements on the aircraft recently, but it’s not concerning the rotor system.”
Concurrent to the development of the aircraft, Marenco is building the facility to industrialize the production and assembly of the SH09 in Mollis, Switzerland. Löwenstein said the work will be undertaken in several phases, with a pre-assembly facility already completed. The final assembly hall will be ready by September, and then a third phase to enhance the pre-assembly facility and production facility will be finished in 2020.
Ultimately, Marenco hopes to be capable of building more than 100 aircraft a year, but it will slowly build up to that from a platform of “several double digit aircraft numbers” in the first few years, said Löwenstein. “What we will do is quite a cautious buildup,” he added. “You cannot improvise a big serious buildup. Which means in the beginning we will do it quite slowly and surely.”
The manufacturer is targeting certification in 2018, with first deliveries to start in early 2019.