Columbia Helicopters Sees Opportunity In Niche Military Engine Maintenance Market

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Another helicopter company pursues markets outside of Wildland Firefighting.

Columbia Helicopters will be able to work with any engine powering a rotary wing aircraft, and adapt to any market changes involving helicopter engines.

Seeing a growing business opportunity in military helicopter engine repair services, Columbia Helicopters has built upon its long-time relationship with engine manufacturer Honeywell International, and is in the process of opening a second test cell at its Aurora, Oregon, maintenance base.

Under its new agreement with Honeywell, which was finalized in March, 2012, Columbia Helicopters is now a factory authorized maintenance repair facility, through depot level, for Honeywell's T55-L-712 and T55-L-11D engines. Both power older models of the Boeing Vertol-built CH47 Chinook tandem rotor helicopter. Columbia is also Honeywell-approved for the AL5512 engine, which powers the CH234, the commercial version of the Chinook.

The agreement has enabled Columbia Helicopters to stake out an important niche market in military engine maintenance, according to Paul Leach, the company's Director of Military Maintenance. “The T55-L-712 and the T55-L-11D are older variants of the T55 and are powering about 30 aircraft now operated by Greece, Thailand, Morocco, and Argentina; but we expect that those countries will continue to use those engines until the aircraft are retired in another 15-20 years,” Leach said. “Those engines will be serviced, repaired and overhauled at our Aurora facility.”

He added that the small number of engines involved will provide Columbia's technicians with the experience base to move forward into the next generation of CH47 powerplants, yet maintain a high quality edge.

In fact, Columbia Helicopters is in the process of qualifying a new, $4-million engine test cell, completed in January of this year. The new test cell has been designed specifically for all past, current, and future variants of the Honeywell T55 engine family--or its equivalent-- and will permit Columbia to test an engine at full power following maintenance.

“We will be able to work with any engine powering a rotary wing aircraft, and adapt to any market changes involving helicopter engines,” Leach noted. He pointed out that the company plans to continue operating an older test cell, which is focused on the GE CT58 which powers the Sikorsky S61, as well as the CH46, a smaller version of the Chinook. Leach added that Columbia is the largest CT58 service center outside of GE.

The new test cell is currently undergoing qualification testing, specifically for the T55-712, T55-714 and the AL5512 engines, with testing slated for completion prior to year-end 2012.

Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Columbia Helicopters is an international operator of heavy lift helicopters deployed in support of the construction, and natural resource extraction industries, as well as aerial firefighting. Columbia Helicopters is a member a member of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), a Washington-based trade association representing commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.

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Tom Eversole
AHSAFA
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