During a Sunday morning press conference here at Heli-Expo, Eurocopter president Fabrice Bregier quietly announced a pending agreement with China to codevelop a new helicopter. Called the EC 175, the new 22,000-pound-gross-weight helicopter will be positioned between the EC 155 and the Super Puma to compete in the heavy-lift market.
“We are in deep talks for a huge program related to the codevelopment of new helicopters…which we believe would be very good for all of our export prospects,” Bregier said. “I am very confident that we will be able to confirm this agreement in the coming months.”
Although the Eurocopter president could not say more about the new helicopter program, the soft announcement underscores the growing investment that the multinational company is making in the Chinese market. Eurocopter has already licensed a Chinese manufacturer in Harbin to produce the EC 120 Colibri for the Asian market and has secured an order for 48 Chinese-built EC 120s to be used for light helicopter training. In addition, Eurocopter will be opening a subsidiary in China in 2005 to assist in the codevelopment of the EC 175.
“We have great expertise in codevelopment, and in working with the Chinese, who produced Eurocopter products under license 25 years ago,” Bregier said. “So we know each other, and it’s safer for both sides to launch coproduction and codevelopment in a way that shares the costs and the benefits.”
Eurocopter’s 2004 global expansion included Australian successes as well, including the delivery of the first of 12 ARH Tigers to the Australian air force, and the selection of the NH90 as the air force’s successor to the Black Hawk. Eurocopter also won a contract for the NH90 in Oman.
The growing acceptance of Eurocopter as a military helicopter manufacturer is apparent as the dollar value of military orders received by Eurocopter in 2004 exceeded that of civil orders. Of a †3.24 billion (approximately $4.02 billion) order book, military orders accounted for 51 percent, and Bregier estimates that the military share of Eurocopter sales will continue to outstrip the civil market, even as Eurocopter’s share of the civil market continues to grow. In the U.S., Eurocopter enjoyed a 50-percent market share in 2004 with 147 deliveries, up 1 percent from 2003.
To attempt to penetrate the U.S. military market, Eurocopter has partnered with Northrop Grumman as prime contractor to create a version of the NH90 acceptable to the U.S. military.
“We believe that the NH90 is by far the most modern, most militarized helicopter of this category,” said Bregier. “Depending on the end-user’s requirements, and working with Northrop Grumman’s outstanding knowledge, we could manage a very good value for the U.S. Air Force.”
In the meantime, Eurocopter received a contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for up to 33 EC 120s and has already delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard 12 Dauphin re-engining kits manufactured at Eurocopter’s new plant in Mississippi. The USCG’s remaining fleet of 95 Dauphins will be outfitted with the kits within the next two years.
Eurocopter has also applied for FAA certification to manufacture the AStar at the Mississippi plant. The helicopter is scheduled to roll out the first U.S. certified aircraft in July.