Eurocopter’s annual presentation was an upbeat affair, with the company announcing a record high 6.3 billion Euro turnover and a healthy 469 net increase in their order book during 2012.
14th Mar 2013
EUROCOPTER POWERS UP
Byline: Richard Gardner / Paris
Eurocopter’s annual presentation was an upbeat affair, with the company announcing a record high 6.3 billion Euro turnover and a healthy 469 net increase in their order book during 2012. Eurocopter delivered 475 helicopters, reflecting the steady growth in the EADS helicopter business (4.6 billion Euros in 2009 and 4.8 billion Euros in 2010). Speaking to Defence Review Asia in Paris, President and CEO Lutz Bertling told the author that the Asian military helicopter market was a top priority for increased sales and represented the biggest potential for market growth, alongside Eastern Europe and Latin America.
While global military sales have inevitably suffered by the ongoing financial crisis impacting on government budgets, he said, the armed forces of nations across the Asia Pacific region were very active in renewing older helicopter fleets and expanding capabilities by using better equipped and better performing new models. Right across the region, air forces, navies and armies were exploiting the advantages that come from newer machines that offered better value, with increased reliability and efficiency as well as lower maintenance costs. This latter point was underlined again later in his presentation when he explained a new push to increase Eurocopter’s activities in maintenance and through life support packages. He also spoke of the increasing operational profile of Eurocopter helicopters in active combat zones, including Afghanistan.
Eurocopter has expanded its product portfolio to include almost every rotary wing market segment, from light training and utility machines to medium-large helicopters. For the time being at least, the company seems content to leave heavy lift helicopters to Boeing, Mil and Sikorsky, though the German Army’s CH-53GA refurbishment and upgrade programme was underway, with the first helicopter delivered. While studies continue, proposals for a new European heavy-lift helicopter programme remain firmly grounded, with no sign of significant R&D funding becoming available so long as defence budgets remain under extreme financial pressure.
Bertling said that turnover growth last year was strongly driven by services and exports. In the military market, 698 helicopters were delivered. Eurocopter’s share was 18%, Boeing’s share 12%, Bell’s 6%, AgustaWestland’s 6%, Sikorsky’s 24% and Russia’s 24%. Bookings continued to pick up throughout last year, with a consolidated order intake worth 5.4 billion Euros for 469 helicopters. He added that the global Eurocopter fleet had now logged 80,000,000 total flight hours, with an improved fleet safety record.
The improved NH-90 medium helicopters are now in French Army (TTH) and Navy (NFH Step B) service, and the first upgraded Tiger HAD is about to be accepted by the French Army. The use of French-flown Tigers and EC725 Caracal, heavily armed combat rescue helicopters had demonstrated their complementary capabilities in Afghanistan, Libya and now Tigers had been deployed to Mali. In the meantime, Germany had also deployed its own Tiger attack helicopters to Afghanistan and NH-90 TTH Medevac helicopters were now arriving in theatre. The Italian Army was also flying NH90 TTHs in Afghanistan. In the USA, over 250 UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters had been delivered to the US Army and US Navy, achieving the 100,000 flight hour milestone in 2012. Bertling said that this programme remains one of the most successful current US defence procurements with costs on schedule and deliveries on or ahead of time. In Brazil, the new assembly facility for EC725 and EC225 medium helicopters had opened and was in a very good position to increase production to meet the growing military and civil needs of this booming country. In Europe, Eurocopter has delivered the first of the RAF’s refurbished and upgraded Puma Mk 2 helicopters. These have been re-engined and given a comprehensive cockpit make-over.
Looking towards the future, Bertling expressed his vision for Eurocopter to become “the world’s No 1 vertical lift solutions provider”, doubling in a decade through sustainable and profitable growth. He says that he expects that doubling to be reached in 8 years. As well as manufacturing, he is planning to focus more on maintenance and modernization activity, covering work on other OEM helicopters as well as Eurocopter products, and wants to build new business based on modernisation work carried out on fixed wing aircraft such as the C-130 and P3.
Regarding more immediate prospects, the company is proposing the military version of the EC145 T2, the AAS-72X+, for the US Army’s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior fleet replacement programme, the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) but with US defence funding in a state of limbo at present and pressure to refurbish the present OH-58 fleet to extend its operational life, this competition could become a lengthy affair. Bertling said that he believed that Eurocopter could deliver a better value solution, with a more capable helicopter based on the UH-72A, offering best-in-class hot and high performance at an affordable price that would not be significantly more expensive than a Kiowa upgrade. He added that the company was teamed with Lockheed Martin which is mission system integrator and if successful in the bid the AAS-72X+ would be built at Eurocopter’s US Mississippi plant at Columbus, where the current UH-72A Lakota line is located.
Bertling would not offer any firm guidance on when or how the successful X3 compound helicopter demonstrator might transition towards a firm product application, but he confirmed that design studies are taking place. The X4 project on the other hand is progressing rapidly and will be the first in 2017 of an advanced specification next-generation Eurocopter family, and two years later, this will be followed by the X6, which is thought most likely to become a replacement for the Puma/Super Puma family. The other long-term project, the X9, will be an all-new light twin engine helicopter. These projects add to what is already a very ambitious future vision for a company which keeps going from strength to strength.