New Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury and the head of its U.S. arm, Marc Paganini, were visibly penitent when discussing the company’s traditionally problematic customer service at today’s annual company press breakfast here at Heli-Expo. Faury left no doubt that he is committed to focusing more company resources and attention on product support. “It is time for new priorities,” he said. Paganini echoed that sentiment, admitting, “We need to do better.”
Faury has spent most of his career at Airbus Helicopters in flight test and engineering. He rejoined the company as CEO 10 months ago after serving as vice president of research and development at French automaker Peugeot since 2009.
While Faury declined to say specifically how much money the company plans to spend rectifying customer service and support issues, he and Paganini unveiled several broad-based initiatives aimed at solving the problem. “We decided very quickly to spend tens of millions of dollars…to increase our supply of parts” and to focus on reducing response times to customer requests, he said. Paganini said that Airbus is also focusing on making web-based customer service portals easier to use.
Faury said the renewed focus on customer service is part of a larger strategy to increase product quality and safety across the board, beginning with initiatives to install flight data and video recorders in its smaller helicopters as standard equipment and to fit cockpit voice recorders in its medium and heavy helicopters.
New Variants Planned
Faury unveiled plans for two new variants of existing products, the 225e and the AS322 C1e, and gave an update of development efforts on the X4 medium twin, now slated for first flight in 2015. The 225e is an extended-range heavy helicopter variant designed primarily for the offshore market. It features new Turbomeca Makila 2B engines, an improved passenger cabin and increased payload and fuel capacity. The 225e will have a range of 300 nm with 10 passengers. Certification is anticipated in 2015. The AS332C1e is a utility variant of the Super Puma designed for missions in high/hot environments. It features the four-axis autopilot and automatic flight control systems from the EC225. X4 development work to date includes running the new quiet technology, increased fuel efficiency main rotor blades for 150 hours, qualifying the Pratt & Whitney Canada and Turbomeca engines–customers will have a choice as they currently do on the Model 135–and fabricating the first all-composite fuselage structure. First flight is expected in 2015.
While in 2013 Airbus booked orders for only five of its new EC175 medium helicopter, a model aimed primarily at the red-hot offshore energy market, Faury said he expects sales prospects for that helicopter to improve now that EASA certification has been received and with FAA approval anticipated “within the next few months.” Several orders for the EC175 are expected to be announced here at Heli-Expo. Faury said Airbus has a “full support package” in place to support EC175 customer operations. That includes location of a level-D simulator proximate to Gulf of Mexico customers, anticipated in 2016.
Overall, Airbus posted revenues of $8.33 billion in 2013, delivering 497 helicopters worldwide, up slightly from 475 in 2012; however, U.S. deliveries declined slightly for the period from 147 to 145. Airbus continues to maintain a 50-percent market share in the U.S.