Eurocopter’s presence in China goes back more than 40 years to the first sale of an Alouette III helicopter in the country in 1967. But since then, the European manufacturer has set down much deeper roots in China and the new twin-engine EC175 (or Z15, as the Chinese version is known) represents the latest stage in a wide-ranging cooperation with China’s Avicopter (see box) through the Shanghai-based joint venture Eurocopter China.
First deliveries of the 16,500-pound EC175 are set for the fourth quarter of this year, which will result in a delay of almost 12 months. According to Eurocopter, one factor behind the delay is that development work has resulted in the new model having better speed and range than expected, requiring the manufacturer to revisit some aspects of certification. Supplier delays on the Helionix avionics have also contributed to the slippage in the certification timetable.
Eurocopter had already emphasized last year that, “with Helionix, the EC175 is the first helicopter in Europe to adopt the latest international avionics standards [RTCA DO-297 and SAEARP 4754], following their introduction on the Airbus A380.” These standards call for more thorough testing of system architecture, functions, software and hardware to “provide a more mature and reliable product” at entry into service. As a result of these tests, Eurocopter decided to add “two full software versions” to ensure system maturity at delivery but is adding time to the certification process.
Last month, Bristow Helicopters, the largest global helicopter service provider, confirmed that it has become the U.S. launch customer for the not-yet-certified EC175. It will use the aircraft to support oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico, which could fuel hopes of similar applications in China’s growing energy sector.
According to Eurocopter, the EC175 will be able to fly an unrefueled round trip of 195 nm (361 km) with 12 passengers and 105 nm (194 km) with a full load of 18 passengers. Maximum fuel load is about 4,600 pounds. The Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67Es on the EC175 are rated at 1,300 shp each.
More New Eurocopters
At last month’s Heli-Expo show in Las Vegas, Eurocopter introduced a new model intended to help maintain its market position: the EC135T3/P3. The new light twin-engine model offers improvements, including optimized Fadec software, longer rotor blades and a change in the location of the air intake. These changes yield a 66-pound increase in maximum takeoff weight, and improved hot/high performance (an additional 440 pounds of payload at 1,500 meters, ISA +20). The updated model also features extended range with external auxiliary fuel tanks, a new interior design, Bluetooth headsets and new life raft system.
Also in development at Eurocopter is the high-speed compound helicopter concept known as X3 (“X cubed”). Eurocopter plans to adapt the technology in the X3 platform to create a new helicopter “significantly different in terms of size,” said former Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling, though he declined to provide a certification date, launch customer or other details. The company has indicated the aircraft would be intended for oil and gas operators, as well as public services, law enforcement, emergency medical and VIP transportation.
At next year’s Heli-Expo show, Eurocopter intends to display its X4 medium twin, which will represent the new generation of its Dauphin family. The X4, which will include straked rotor blades and a fly-by-wire system, will be offered with a Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210 or Turbomeca TM800 turboshaft engine. First flight is scheduled for 2016, with certification planned for 2017.
Meanwhile, however, Bertling said that after safety, Eurocopter’s immediate major priority is addressing the problems with the EC225 Super Puma. The global fleet has been flying under restricted service as the result of the ditching of two EC225s in the North Sea last fall, losses attributed to cracks in the main gearbox bevel gear shafts.
Eurocopter managed to boost revenue last year despite sagging deliveries, in part on the strength of its service activities. The France-based manufacturer plans to ramp up production this year, with the aim of delivering 15 percent more aircraft than it handed over last year.
In 2012, revenue amounted to €6.3 billion ($8.4 billion). This represents a 15-percent increase over the previous year and the second consecutive year of double-digit growth.
Meanwhile, deliveries have been on the decline since 2008. Last year, Eurocopter delivered 475 helicopters and–based on these deliveries–claims a market share of 44 percent of civil and parapublic helicopters with an mtow of more than 2,200 pounds. The company attributes the rise in revenue despite fewer deliveries to the higher price because of the larger size of the helicopters handed over.
Meanwhile, Eurocopter’s service business grew to 42 percent of total revenue last year, up from 38 percent in 2011, with the value of service activity surpassing production. The growth in service business is due largely to the acquisition of helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul specialist Vector Aerospace in 2011. Last year marked the first full year of consolidation of Vector’s results into Eurocopter’s balance sheet.
In 2012, Eurocopter received net orders for 469 civil and military aircraft, worth $7 billion, a stronger increase in value than in units. These sales break down to nine EC120s, 249 Ecureuil/AStars, 63 EC135s, 81 EC145s, 11 Dauphins, 19 EC175s and 37 Super Pumas.
A priority this year is to improve production efficiency as output levels increase. The company is endeavoring to support its suppliers’ efforts to achieve on-time delivery objectives, which will enable Eurocopter to increase its production by 15 percent.
“It would be great if the order intake could grow by a double-digit percentage as well,” Bertling concluded. This would bring both deliveries and orders to more than 500 helicopters.