The market for executive/VIP helicopters is growing, according to Eurocopter representatives here at EBACE, but the biggest challenge to sales is still cultural.
“We must first educate the market that the executive helicopter does not replace the business jet, but rather complements it,” said Dominique Orbec, Eurocopter vice president of marketing. “If a traveler gains two hours by flying on a business jet from Paris to New York, but loses that two hours at both ends getting to and from the airport because of traffic on the ground, what’s the point? With a helicopter, that time can be saved.”
Another obstacle is the perception that helicopters are not as safe as business jets. “The problem is, most helicopter accident statistics don’t separate corporate from utility operations. You don’t see business jets logging timber or landing on platforms in the North Sea,” Orbec told EBACE Convention News. Though he did not have the statistics on hand here in Geneva, he claimed, “The reality is that corporate helicopters have an accident rate that’s as good as corporate jets.”
While the lack of downtown heliports and civic opposition toward building more hampers helicopter sales in the U.S., Orbec said he does not consider this a huge problem in Europe. “Most major cities here have at least one heliport,” he said. Noise is a concern, however, and he said reducing the noise footprint of Eurocopter’s helicopters is a major initiative.
Obstacles notwithstanding, Patrice Royer, Eurocopter director of market development for the commercial business and private segment, said he’s seeing a lot of newcomers to the company’s customer base. “Our sales of corporate helicopters in Europe have increased some 5 to 10 percent over the last five years,” he said. “In 2005 we had bookings for 83 private helicopters and last year we had bookings for 111.” The company’s most popular models are the AS 350B3 single-engine and EC 135 twin.
Increased wealth among some individuals in Spain, Russia and some other countries in Eastern Europe has spurred interest in helicopters. “Some wealthy individuals buy a yacht first, then a business jet and then come looking for a helicopter,” Royer said.
Experienced business jet owners now expect to find the same cabin accoutrements in helicopters that they’ve become accustomed to in their jets. “They want connections for their laptops and iPods, LCD screens for their DVDs and so on,” he said, adding that Eurocopter is working on installation of these for its helicopters.