Olivier Andriès, who has been the CEO of Turbomeca since June, predicts that helicopter engines will become fuel-electric hybrids around 2030. He also predicted that, in about 20 years, conventional turbine engine performance will be close to an asymptote. By that, he meant further improvement of turbine technology will be enormously difficult and expensive, if not impossible. So the next step will be hybridization, he said. “We will see integrated propulsion systems using thermodynamic and electric solutions,” he told AIN.
Turbomeca (part of the Safran Group) has not been involved in Eurocopter’s demonstration of a partly hybrid AS350 Ecureuil/AStar single but “this is the direction we are going in,” Andriès noted. The turboshaft maker counts on the expertise it can draw from subsidiary Microturbo and sister company Safran Power in electric power generation and distribution.
In around 2020, he said, helicopter engines will still be “very conventional” in their architecture, but there will be innovations in components. “We are walking down a parallel road to that of CFM’s Leap-X turbofan for airliners, with new technologies and the usual layout,” Andriès said.
Andriès said the Pau, France-based turboshaft manufacturer is busy with shorter term research-and-development programs, notably developing demonstrators in a wide power range. Turbomeca is working simultaneously on several demonstrators, with the goal of being ready to launch a program. “When a helicopter manufacturer needs an engine, we’ll just have to push a button to launch the development,” Andriès explained. His ambition is to reduce a development cycle from the usual five or six years to three years starting in 2015.
One demonstrator, the Tech 600, is focused on the 600- to 900-shp power range, while the Tech 800 is geared to the 1,000- to 2,000-shp bracket. “We are considering a demonstrator in the 2,000- to 3,000-shp range,” Andriès added. This full range of demonstrators would cover the entire helicopter spectrum, from light turbine singles to models with 27,000-pound mtow, that is, helicopters greater than the size of the Eurocopter EC225.
Turbomeca draws one third of its revenues from new engine sales, while product support accounts for the other two thirds. After a dip in 2010, he said, production is growing again, and he expects the company will manufacture about 1,100 engines this year.
Turbomeca is increasing its research-and-development spending by 25 percent, even as it transitions some prototypes to production status. “This will represent 15 percent of our revenues,” Andriès said.
The top evolution criterion, after safety and reliability, is the power-to-weight ratio. “The Arriel engine has gained about 50 percent in 30 years,” the CEO said. In addition, it has achieved a reduction in direct operating costs. Andriès wants to see specific fuel consumption decreasing by one percent per year, and he is also aiming at cutting maintenance costs.
As for production, 2010 was the year when the downturn had an impact, especially for light helicopters. Turbomeca manufactured only 800 turboshafts in 2010. Last year, this grew to 1,000, and the number should grow to an expected 1,100 this year. Andriès anticipates production to hit 1,200 engines in 2013.
Turbomeca’s workforce stands at 6,000, including Microturbo. The company is now recruiting for new engineer profiles, which reflects new technology trends. For example, Andriès said, “we are looking for specialists in electric system integration and power electronics specification.”
Some 1,500 employees work outside France. There are the two U.S. sites (Dallas, Texas, and Monroe, N.C.). There are also assembly or repair activities in Australia, the UK, Brazil and South Africa. One of Andriès’ priorities is to find growth opportunities in emerging countries. The idea is to create partnerships to help indigenous programs.
Although a very close relationship still exists between Turbomeca and Eurocopter, the two companies tend to be more independent. Eurocopter tapped Pratt & Whitney Canada, for instance, to power its EC175 medium twin, and Turbomeca has added some brands to its portfolio of applications, for example, Russian Helicopters (the Kamov Ka-226T light single and Ka-62 medium twin) and Avicopter (the AC352, the Chinese version of the EC175).