Lafayette-based PHI Inc. (NASDAQ Global Market: PHII) and Stratford, Conn.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and announced this week that they had completed the first operational flights of the new “Rig Approach” system, a first-of-its-kind functionality on the S-92(R) helicopter that provides helicopter operators with an automated approach to offshore rigs and platforms. The flights occurred Nov. 12.

Earlier this year, two Federal Aviation Administration demonstration test flights were flown simultaneously by Sikorsky and PHI Inc. pilots who utilized Rig Approach to fly to oil rigs off the coast of Louisiana.

Sikorsky, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. (NYSE:UTX), developed Rig Approach in close collaboration with PHI, a Sikorsky customer that operates S-92 and S-76(R) helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico, providing transportation to offshore oil workers to and from the platforms there.

“This milestone culminates a five-year joint development effort between PHI and Sikorsky for Rig Approach. This new capability improves helicopter safety and operations for the offshore oil industry by reducing crew workload, increasing situational awareness and enhancing on-time performance,” Sikorsky Global Helicopters President Carey Bond said in a prepared release. “Safety is and always will be our priority. Innovations such as Rig Approach are invaluable, especially in the hostile weather environments where many of these rigs operate every day.”

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Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
PHI Inc. has completed the first operational flights of the new “Rig Approach” system, a first-of-its-kind functionality on the S-92(R) helicopter that provides helicopter operators with an automated approach to offshore rigs and platforms. Rig Approach allows for more consistent operations under challenging weather and operating conditions.

“We share an absolute commitment to continue to explore new technologies to enhance the safety of the men and women who work in the Gulf,” said Al Gonsoulin, CEO and chairman of the board for PHI Inc. “Throughout our 60-plus-year history, PHI has taken great pride in our work to introduce advances with partners like Sikorsky. Together, with the introduction of Rig Approach, Sikorsky and PHI have made an important advancement in the name of safety.”

Rig Approach reduces cockpit workload by 60 percent and allows for more consistent operations under challenging weather and operating conditions. The system will be available as an option on the S-92 helicopters, providing a fully coupled and automated approach capability with a higher safety margin than currently is available with any other offshore approach procedure. The feature can be retrofitted to aircraft already operating.

Sikorsky announced May 6 that the FAA had approved the new functionality.

The multi-mission S-92 helicopter incorporates numerous safety features, including a flaw-tolerant design. Off hore oil operators fly the aircraft for an average of 90 -- 110 hours per month in often challenging environments. The S-92 helicopter also performs Head of State missions, search and rescue (SAR) operations as well as a variety of transportation missions for utility and airline passengers. Since entering service in September 2004, the S-92 fleet has grown to 200 aircraft and logged more than 600,000 flight hours to date.

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