It will come as no surprise to industry watchers that Eurocopter had another good year last year. Its $4 billion order book was its best in the last five years. The total included $1.7 billion worth of new helicopters–equivalent to 401 airframes–and 70 percent of that sum was for export. The AS 350B AStar remains its most popular type: nearly 200 of them were sold last year and, so far this year, they have been moving off the production line at the rate of one per day. Eurocopter still sells more turbine helicopters than any other manufacturer.
At the company’s traditional Heli-Expo press breakfast, CEO Fabrice Brégier pointed out that the preponderance of orders–54 percent–came from the military. He said that he and Marc Paganini, CEO of American Eurocopter, would like to see more of a 50-50 balance between the military and civil sides, as well as military sales to the U.S. Eurocopter has yet to crack this lucrative market and views its EC 145 entry in the Army’s light utility helicopter (LUH) competition as its best hope so far.
Eurocopter dearly wants to win the LUH contract. A doubling of the size of the workforce and the production facility in Columbus, Miss., rests on it. Paganini goes to some length to emphasize the company’s American citizenship: all but a handful of its employees are U.S. citizens; it builds metal and composite components; it assembles U.S.-bound AStars; and, before long, it will take responsibility for the entire AStar line. It will also soon start building EC 145 tailbooms.
Eurocopter has partnered with some heavyweight U.S. corporations, including Sikorsky and CAE, for the LUH race. Flight evaluations of all four contenders are currently taking place at Fort Rucker, Ala.
The decision is due at the end of April and, if it goes Eurocopter’s way, the company has committed to delivering the first six by the end of this year and as many as 26 the year after. That may appear a tall order, but Paganini is bullish. “It is a big commitment but we will deliver,” he promised.
Last year American Eurocopter experienced growth approaching 35 percent. It delivered 93 helicopters and has an order book of 120 plus. It has delivered more than 50 re-engining kits for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Eurocopter HH-65 Dauphin fleet and has returned the first helicopter to be modified at Columbus to service. Finally, customization of the first batch of six EC 120s for the U.S. Border Patrol is under way and first deliveries are due by year-end.
Looking to the future, partnerships are clearly Eurocopter’s preferred option. The company is working with China on a seven-ton competitor for the AgustaWestland AW139 and with Korea on a new eight-ton helicopter for domestic and export markets.
Answering a question about the proposed new heavy-lift helicopter for the U.S. Marine Corps, Brégier clearly favored a transatlantic alliance. “It’s a more cost-effective option and we would be looking for a strong non-European partner.”