Eurocopter Lands First Customer for “low-cost” Super Puma

 - January 1, 2013, 2:45 AM
AgustaWestland is constructing the third, shown, and fourth test aircraft at its Cascina Costa facility. The aircraft are scheduled to join the test fleet this year and next.

Eurocopter has signed the first customer for the AS332C1e Super Puma, the “low cost” version of the medium twin. Starlite Aviation, an operator based in Ireland and South Africa, will be the first to fly the new, shorter-fuselage variant. Starlite provides passenger and cargo flights and heavy sling-load operations for, among others, United Nations agencies.

The contract is a firm order for two aircraft, scheduled for delivery by year-end, and options on two more. Eurocopter already has three C1es in final assembly at its factory in Marignane, France, and expects the production rate eventually to reach eight per year.

EASA certification is slated for July, followed by FAA approval a couple of months later, business development director Fabrice Arfi told AIN. There is no plan for a military version.

The relatively swift development of the C1e stems from the certification last summer of a longer-fuselage version that introduced the technology used for the C1e, which uses the same airframe as the AS332C1, no longer in production.

The C1e cockpit features four 6- by 8-inch displays. The four-axis autopilot comes from the EC225. Powered by two Turbomeca Makila 1A1s (1,877 shp each), the C1e can lift up to 9,900 pounds on the hook at an mtow is 20,600 pounds.

One way Eurocopter has kept the price down for both manufacturing and maintaining the C1e was to adopt maximum standardization of systems rather than offer its usual “tailored” approach, Arfi noted.

Despite the standardized approach, options are offered, such as a hoist, sling, search-and-rescue autopilot mode and a “combi kit” STC for a variable number of seats (up to 17), depending on the cargo load. Eurocopter subsidiary Vector Aerospace developed the STC using seat rails and a mobile partition wall.

The C1e is intended to compete with Russian helicopters such as the Mi-8/17 series, and although equipped with the latest generation of engines and avionics it is cost-competitive with, for example, the Mi-171A2, Arfi claimed. Eurocopter also sees a market for the C1e among operators replacing old Bell 412s. “We are aiming at the utility market in the medium/heavy category, including search-and-rescue, logistics, passenger carrying and peace enforcement,” Arfi said.

The price of the C1e is undisclosed as yet but higher than that of its ex-Soviet rivals. “If the customer looks at operating costs, however, he sees the total cost of ownership is lower with the C1e,” Arfi claimed, adding that the C1e’s operating costs are “known and predictable.” He claimed the Eurocopter burns 30 percent less fuel than the Mi-171A2 series while offering a higher cruise speed.

According to a Starlite Aviation spokeswoman, the “gross value” of the order is “more than €50 million” ($65 million).