US operator acquires S-92s to boost tourism

Flight International/January 18, 2005

A US-based business aircraft operator is planning to set up a second operation in South Korea to shuttle tourists to outer islands using a fleet of Sikorsky S-61 and S-92 helicopters.

Washington Times Aviation has ordered five S-92s for delivery in late 2007 and is negotiating to acquire several secondhand S-61s from the Malaysian government and other sources.

The company's new South Korean unit also aims to set up shop in Seoul to maintain and overhaul S-61s from its own fleet and potentially other operators.

Industry sources say Sikorsky is willing to help Washington Times establish repair services and stock spare parts for the S-61, but doubts the viability of the plan and is not willing to support Washington Times' ambitions to possibly later expand into manufacturing.

At the moment Washington Times Aviation only operates fixed-wing aircraft that shuttle VIPs from its parent company, including its controversial millionaire owner the reverend Sun Myung Moon. The US-based, South Korean-owned company is planning to develop a number of hard-to-access islands off the Korean peninsula, and believes it needs a helicopter operation to shuttle tourists to and from the new resorts.

The S-92s will be delivered in 19-seat airline configuration. If the resort development plans fail to materialize, Washington Times could operate the five aircraft elsewhere.

Washington Times is the first Asian customer to order S-92s, but sources say that China's ministry of communications is close to finalizing an agreement for two S-92s in search and rescue configuration.

In addition, the South Korean air force is recommending a purchase of three S-92 presidential helicopters, but a final selection has been delayed, possibly until after the USA decides on its next presidential helicopter.

Versions of the AgustaWestland EH101 are in competition against the S-92 for both procurements.

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