Eurocopter’s new North Sea Service Centre at Aberdeen in the northeast of Scotland is the blueprint for the manufacturer’s concerted effort to locate product support and training infrastructure as close as possible to operators of its aircraft. The new facility was officially opened on February 1 and the company is advancing plans for similar developments in the U.S., Asia and South America.
According to Derek Sharples, Eurocopter executive vice president for support and services, helicopter hotspots such as Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico could also get new support and training centers along the lines of that built for operators serving offshore oil and gas activity in the North Sea. In the past 12 months, it has added additional simulator capacity at its American Eurocopter headquarters in Dallas.
Last year, the airframer opened a new MRO subsidiary in India and expanded its operation in Singapore by 50 percent. The company has invested approximately $68 million in a new logistics center in France and it also has a new training and logistics partner in China.
The next step is to bring training provision closer to customers in key developing markets. This will see simulators added in Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore and China this year.
The North Sea Service Centre provides MRO support for Eurocopter aircraft operating in North Sea oil and gas fields. The facility also includes a pilot training center, which features a full-flight simulator for Eurocopter’s EC225 large twin.
CHC Helicopters last month signed a contract that calls for at least 800 training hours in the new level-B simulator each year. This follows another deal signed late in 2010 by Bond Helicopters for at least 200 hours, with both operators indicating that they may need as much as 50 percent additional simulator time.
Eurocopter also expects the smaller, new EC175 model to sell well in the burgeoning offshore market. With this in mind, space available next to Aberdeen’s new EC225 simulator has been provisionally earmarked to house an EC175 unit.
Bristow Helicopters already has its own in-house simulator. The company’s worldwide headquarters is located in Aberdeen and it may opt to take some time in the Eurocopter simulator, too.
Eurocopter developed the EC225 full-flight simulator in partnership with Spain’s Indra group. The company opted for equipment with level-B certification rather than the more advanced level D because, according to Sharples, “that’s what customers need and that’s what they will pay for.”
The EC225 unit in Aberdeen is Eurocopter’s 15th full-flight simulator worldwide. One other EC225 simulator has already been installed at its French headquarters in Marignane. Eurocopter has invested almost $16 million in the new facility, which is run by its Eurocopter UK subsidiary with some 20 staff. The manufacturer expects to expand the 20,000-sq-ft center to respond to the needs of growing numbers of aircraft that it anticipates being used to support fast-expanding wind farm operations in the North Sea.
Aberdeen is Europe’s busiest heliport and a hub for some 100 Eurocopter rotorcraft operating in the North Sea and for several hundred pilots who fly them. North Sea helicopter operations account for approximately 100,000 flight hours annually, and exploration and production activity is due to increase this year and into 2012. Of the 100 Eurocopters active in that sector, 56 are based in the UK, 31 in Norway, eight in the Netherlands and five in Denmark.
The MRO capability in Aberdeen is intended to further reduce downtimes for helicopters operating in the high-demand North Sea sector. Operators there conduct frequent scheduled services, almost like regional airlines ferrying workers to and from the rigs and platforms–often in harsh conditions. The new facility gives operators a more direct alternative to Eurocopter’s existing MRO facilities in Oxford, UK, and at its corporate headquarters in Marignane in the south of France. The new facility includes a dynamic component workshop.
The North Sea Support Centre includes a logistics hub that stores almost $24 million worth of spare parts, an inventory that is set to double in value over the next year. The company has set a goal of getting spares to locally based operators within three hours, but because of their close proximity it often can do deliver in as little as 45 minutes.
According to Sharples, support and service activities grew by about 10 percent last year, accounting for about 36 percent of Eurocopter’s revenues.