Last December, on 6th and 7th, EASA hosted the 10th edition of the Rotorcraft Symposium.
This attracted about 240 delegates from all around the world, plus a number of participants and presenters from EASA.
The preparation started well early, in spring last year and was quite special this time, n – EASA would have for the first time hosted the symposium in its new building. Not an easy task, but the efforts were crowned by high level of satisfaction from the participants, and we are all grateful to the organizer, Paola Galmarini, and the colleagues who assisted her.
The Symposium is lectures, presentations and discussions on topics of high actuality, it is people connecting and talking to each other about their business. It is a great opportunity for EASA and the industry to know each other better, to meet and to speak, to listen and to understand real industry concerns. This year we decided to run a number of parallel sessions: after the opening common session, the attendees had a choice from certification and operational topics plus a specific seminar on transmission safety.
Needless to say that those topics encountered very high interest from the delegates. Mentioning all the presentations would take long, a few examples could suffice to give the flavour of the event.
EASA presented the work being progressed by a joint aviation rulemaking advisory committee (ARAC) working group in which it participants aimed to introduce bird strike resistant elements (one for all, the cockpit windshield) in the Part 27 helicopters, which are limited to a maximum take-off weight within 7.000 pounds. These lighter helicopters often have a large canopy windshield, and its strengthening, normally corresponding to a thickness increase, would bring unacceptable deformation to the outside visible scene, other than heavy weight penalisation. The significant increment of the bird population in different areas of Europe and the globe renders bird encounters more and more frequent, presenting an increasing threat in particular to helicopters, operating mostly at low altitude. The advent of new polymers, characterised by higher strength and easier manufacturing may bring a suitable solution to this kind of issues.
A unique presentation on the same subject from Bell Helicopters, who provided a summary of their studies on bird strike simulation technologies, as opposed to actual bird strike tests which these where shown to well match, and the utilisation of simulation for certification purposes.
It was fascinating and rewarding to get a number of lectures from the Federal Aviation Authorities (FAA) as evidence of mutual recognition and willingness to share experience working together in this symposium. Of extreme interest was their “Safety Continuum” draft policy: this is aimed at tailoring the safety requirements not only to the class of threat, but to newly identified classes of rotorcraft in the same Part 27 domain. FAA perceives that such differentiation has the potential of boosting safety of the lighter ones by facilitating introduction of cheaper, still useful, pieces of instrumentation that would be true life-savers in a number of scenarios. This is going to trigger plenty of interest and discussion in the aviation industry and the authorities.
A specific event was the Transmission forum, magisterially run by our colleague Alastair Healy. The spring of 2016 was darkened by a terrible accident in Norway. While investigations are still ongoing, whatever the triggering cause, it was evident then that the main gearbox suffered a catastrophic failure. Helicopters are unique aerial vehicles and encompass a number of “critical” parts, i.e. those parts the failure took place might create a catastrophic event; and one of the key assemblies of those parts is the main gearbox. These shall be designed, manufactured and maintained with the highest care, to ensure helicopter continue to be the safe vehicle they are and even safer in the future.
A number of studies and researches are ongoing, on material properties, mechanical fracture technology and health and usage monitoring systems, and even completely innovative concepts for future drive systems on helicopter, Tilt Rotor and Hybrid aircraft.
In addition, there were presentations and discussions about the current studies on pilot behaviour when facing technology (like eye tracking), about best practices in the offshore environment, on flotation stability systems in water and use of simulation, advanced navigation functions, hoist design in line with hoisting missions, ARAC “occupant protection” working group, rotorcraft airbags to improve crashworthiness, flight test techniques as well as certification in icing conditions, cooperation between EASA and CleanSky. But also standard operating procedures in Aerial Work, the development of operational rules for the new tilt rotor generation and a presentation of the new MI-38 Russian helicopter.
At the end, lot of attention was generated by unmanned air vehicles/ Systems (UAV/UAS): their certification challenges and risk based approach.
About 40 presentations, offering food for thoughts to many and in all different fields, and an exercise not closed with the Symposium but starting with it. Several topics had been identified that will deserve further attention like:
• Maturity of rotorcraft regulations versus large airplanes regulations
• pilot “age 60”
• single engine IFR helicopters
• drones challenges and potential risks to Rotorcraft
Topics that will be further discussed and validated by the industry via their committees (e.g. the new Rotorcraft Sectorial Committee) for further elaboration by EASA and the Industry.
The Rotorcraft Symposium has once again proven to be the place where the Rotorcraft community gets together to listen and comment on the newest development of technology, on existing and incoming regulations, on certification and operations and any other topics in connection with them and their concrete needs. We are already thrilled by the idea of setting up the next edition allowing even more people to get access to this major European Rotorcraft event and rest reassured that it will continue to surprise you!