Helicopter manufacturer Sikor- sky is outsourcing more of its civil production to India and China while scaling down its partnership with Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). The company also announced that China’s AVIC subsidiary Changhe Aircraft has delivered the first S-76C++ airframe built in China and that India’s Tata Advanced Systems will be building S-92 cabins.
Changhe Aircraft completed its first S-76++ airframe in November, delivering it to Sikorsky’s U.S. facility for customization. Six airframes are to be handed over this year. “Then we’ll see how we split production between Changhe and Aero Vodochody,” Scott Pierce, Sikorsky’s vice president for Asian sales, told AIN. Until now, Aero Vodochody has been the main source for S-76 airframes.
The production backlog for the S-76C++ medium twin extends into 2011, Pierce said, which also is when the transition to the S-76D is scheduled to take place. Changhe Aircraft has been working with Sikorsky for 15 years and has been a risk-sharing partner in the S-92 program since 1995, manufacturing the tail pylon. The Chinese firm also supplies airframe components for Sikorsky’s Schweizer S-300CBi piston single.
Pierce made it clear that before Sikorsky commits to outsourcing, a dedicated strategic council from the company studies a number of factors, including offset obligations and labor costs. It also considers risks, such as political instability.
To facilitate the current programs, one Sikorsky employee works at Changhe Aircraft and a program manager travels between China and the U.S. “This is working pretty well,” Pierce said. The U.S. company’s philosophy when outsourcing a new work package is “crawl, walk and run,” as Pierce put it. This means Sikor-sky first ships a kit with the parts and fixtures, which the manufacturing partner puts together. The next step is for the partner to produce the fixtures and then it makes all the components before assembly. “The idea is for them to move gradually to self sufficiency,” Pierce said.
The principle is the same for manufacturing the S-92 cabin in India, where production is to start this year. However, Sikor-sky has more of its people on site in Hyderabad because “the S-92 is a more complex job than the S-76, and it is a new activity for Tata,” Pierce explained. So there will be “a handful of expatriates, plus local Sikorsky employees.”
In fact, S-92 production is moving to India from Japan, with MHI supplying the component-and-fixture kits. The Japanese firm has been a risk-sharing partner in the S-92 program, in charge of the cabin’s detail design and production. However, MHI wants to reduce its participation and eventually will stop producing S-92 cabins. “This is several years away,” Pierce said. In the military field, MHI is still producing Black Hawk and Sea Hawk derivatives under license.
Also in India, Sikorsky and Tata late last year announced the creation of a joint venture to manufacture aerospace components for the U.S. group, which will be a minority partner with a 26-percent stake. The two companies expect to have their factory, also in Hyderabad, built by 2011. From 2012, it will make some cabin components for the neighboring S-92 facility. There are also plans to manufacture parts for other OEMs.