European Aviation News

Joining the club

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in late September issued type certificate EASA.IM.R.133 for the Kamov Ka-32A11BC helicopter. Previously, European operations of this type were governed by a Specific Airworthiness Specification and restricted to the territory of several countries. The EASA certification makes it possible for any EU-based operator to use the Ka-32 commercially. This design became the first Russian-built helicopter to receive European certification. In fact, the EASA validation was just another milestone on the Ka-32’s way to worldwide recognition.
Kamov chief designer Shamil Suleymanov told the Russia & CIS Observer that the international promotion of the Ka-32 started in the early 1990s, when these helicopters first came to Canada and Europe. Already at that point the manufacturer began thinking of international certification. For this to become possible, new Russian certification requirements had to be developed on the basis of the US FAR 29 airworthiness standards. These requirements, which would later provide the foundation for Russia’s AP-29 national aviation regulations, were used in 1993 to certify the Ka-32 at home.
After that, Suleymanov continues, the Russian certificate was validated by a number of foreign countries which recognized the FAR 29 standards. Also in 1993, Kamov launched validation campaigns in Canada and Europe. A number of modifications were introduced to the original helicopter design at the request of Transport Canada, eventuating in the Ka-32A11BC version (the BC designator standing for "British Columbia"). The improvements included a new flight control system and updated avionics. In addition, specifically for Canadian certification, the helicopter’s service life was increased to 16,000 hours from the earlier Ka-32T version’s 4,000 hours. Ka-32A11BC rotorcraft are currently used by Canadian company VIH Helicopters in logging operations.
The Ka-32 was certified in Switzerland to FAR 29 in 1996. The first Swiss operator for the type was the Heliswiss transport and installation specialist. It was for Heliswiss that Kamov developed the single-pilot Ka-32A12 version.
Kamov realized, however, that the Ka-32 had even more to offer. "We understood that the helicopter was much more versatile," says Suleymanov. In the late 1990s, the Ka-32 debuted as a firefighting aircraft with the Spanish firm Helicopteros del Sureste, which later became part of the INAER aviation holding company. According to Suleymanov, Spanish firefighters found the Ka-32 to be more efficient in this role than the traditional Canadair CL215 fixed-wing amphibian. The rotorcraft demonstrated the ability to fly more frequent water-dropping runs because, unlike an airplane, it could refill its water tanks from virtually any reservoirs, including private swimming pools.
The Ka-32A11BC received a Spanish type certificate in 2004, but it had yet to be certified to EASA standards. That process was launched in 2006 and will be formally completed in November 2009, when EASA representatives come to Moscow to present Kamov with an official certificate.
At present, the only other Russian-designed aircraft type that holds a European airworthiness certificate is the Tupolev Tu-204-120CE freighter. "We view the EASA certification as the signal of our having been accepted into the world club [of aircraft manufacturers]," Suleymanov says. "No other [Russian helicopter specialist] has managed to achieve this over the past 50 years." According to Andrey Shibitov, general director of the Russian Helicopters holding company, "EASA’s certification of the Ka-32A11BC opens up new opportunities for the operation of this multirole helicopter, which has already demonstrated its efficiency in many EU countries."
The EASA certificate is sure to expand the list of Ka-32 operators in Europe, where it has been used until now exclusively by INAER of Spain and the Portuguese state-owned company EMA. INAER Technical Director Aurelio Martinez Pillet says the certificate will make it possible for his company to operate the Ka-32 in any of EASA’s 22 member nations, whereas previously operations of the type were restricted to Spain. INAER currently has 10 Ka-32A11BS helicopters, but Martinez Pillet believes that further expansion of the type’s operational capabilities may move his company to boost its fleet.
In its current wording, however, the EASA certificate only permits Ka-32A11BS operations in two categories: firefighting and external cargo transportation. It prohibits commercial passenger services, although transportation of personnel and mission specialists, such as smokejumpers and rescuers, is allowed. Martinez Pillet says the helicopter’s external cargo lifting capability is its key advantage, whereas in other roles — passenger transportation or medical evacuation, for example — the Ka-32 does not measure up to comparable Western types.
The manufacturer disagrees. According to Suleymanov, the Ka-32s for Portugal are configured as multirole helicopters. The local company EMA, which specializes in emergency relief, operates six such helicopters in the search-and-rescue, medical evacuation and aerial patrol roles. Thanks to a range of interchangeable, mission-specific payload modules the helicopters can be reequipped for a different mission within one hour. The Portuguese Ka-32s also have analog instrumentation replaced with digital equivalents.
Suleymanov says the company will proceed with international certification of the Ka-32. Currently, apart from Canada and Europe, the helicopter holds national type certificates in several countries that recognize the FAR 29 standards: in Chile, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan. In all these countries Ka-32s have been operated successfully for some time. The largest Ka-32 fleet is in South Korea, where over 60 of the type are used by the national air force and coast guard for aerial patrols and search-and-rescue operations, by the forestry service in the firefighting role, and also by private companies.
"So far our certification plans excluded Papua New Guinea and Australia," says Suleymanov. One Ka-32 is already operated in PNG, so Kamov will eventually direct its certification efforts on that country. The manufacturer also plans to have the Ka-32A11BC certified in the Middle East.
Work is ongoing to obtain certificates for other Ka-32 modifications. According to Suleymanov, talks are under way with Heliswiss on EASA certification of the Ka-32A12 version. Kamov proceeds from the premise that, being a derivative of the Ka-32A11BC, this variant should be easier to validate. However, it still has to agree with the Swiss operator on delineating areas of responsibility and define who will spend how much on the certification process.
In the meantime, Kamov continues work to further improve the Ka-32, with a view of introducing a fully digital cockpit and advanced mission equipment, including a new firefighting system. Suleymanov says the use of advanced systems will reduce the all-up weight and increase the helicopter’s thrust-to-weight ratio. Kamov does admit, though, that digital avionics may prove superfluous for some of the Ka-32’s current roles, such as logging operations. Consequently, the digital cockpit will most likely be offered as an option. The manufacturer is also planning to replace the Ka-32’s two Ivchenko-Progress TV3-117VMA engines with more powerful, FADEC-equipped Klimov VK-2500s.
A more distant goal is to develop a long-range Ka-32-10 civilian transport capable of carrying up to 20 passengers. Suleymanov explains that the projected model would retain the original powerplant and transmission, but would get a substantially redesigned fuselage. Demand for the Ka-32-10 is expected to come from oil- and gas-producing companies, which might need it for offshore operations. Kamov insists that its trademark coaxial rotor design ensures safe operations in gusty winds and adverse weather.