Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter) is here exhibiting the Hermès luxury version of its EC135, and is soliciting new possibilities for customization. The helicopter manufacturer (Booth 6613) is seeing a steady market in private and business aviation, with a combined 150 helicopters sold in the world last year by rotorcraft OEMs. Company design engineers are now working on the VIP version of the EC175, with hinged doors and an escalator for passengers.
The EC135 Hermès is now based on the new T3/P3 variant, which sports new engines for improved performance. “We have worked with Hermès to allow more customization than in the version we introduced in 2007,” said Frédéric Lemos, senior vice president, private and business aviation market development. The original configuration and equipment could not be tweaked.
“Now we offer to develop, with each customer, a totally unique helicopter,” Lemos said. Hermès offers to create a specific interior, including personalization of leather color and adaptation of the furniture. The paint scheme, too, may be customized. However, there is only one option for some equipment such as the minibar and in-flight entertainment. “Otherwise the delivery lead time would be too long,” Lemos explained.
The EC135 Hermès sells in the €5 to €6 million ($7 to $8.4 million) price range, depending on options and economic conditions. Airbus Helicopters may also consider customer requests for a Hermès interior on other helicopters.
Asked about sales expectations, Lemos said achieving a large number of sales is not the objective. “This is a very exclusive high-end product so we don’t necessarily want to sell more than one per year,” he said. He rather sees it as a way to position the manufacturer in the VIP helicopter market, with clear differentiation. However, while Airbus Helicopters has so far sold five EC135 Hermès, it originally had hoped to sell “several dozen.”
Another special version of a light twin, the EC145 Mercedes-Benz Style, was introduced in 2010 and seven examples have been sold since.
Frédéric Lemos, Airbus Helicopters’ senior v-p, private and business aviation market development, explained that the global market for private and business helicopters in 2013 was stable, at about 150 units. This breaks down into 76 light singles (from the size of an AS350 Ecureuil), 48 light twins (such as EC135s, Bell 429s and so forth), 21 medium twins (like the EC155 and Sikorsky S-76) and a handful of heavy twins–for example, the Super Puma. The very light segment is excluded from the picture but Lemos admitted the Robinson R66 sells much better than the EC120, which has “a different price point and very different technology positioning.”
Airbus Helicopters claims to have achieved a 36.5-percent market share over the past five years. In units sold, this represents 433 helicopters over the 2009-2013 period, with 76 sales last year.
The company offers two levels of completion. One is called “Stylence” and is a relatively standard executive cabin interior that also provides some degree of flexibility (to change the seat configuration, for instance). Lemos described it as “trendy sport chic.” It is available on Airbus’s light singles and light twins. The other is the VIP offer, available starting with the EC135, allowing for much greater customization. “Passengers tend to bring more personal electronic devices on board so there is a growing demand for power points instead of fixed displays,” said Lemos. Interior designers also try to bring more ergonomics into the cabin–for example, practical coat hooks and side pockets to hold sunglasses, cell phones and so forth.
By 2016, Airbus Helicopters intends to offer wireless headsets for passengers. I t also is involved in studies with suppliers, especially with regard to interference and recharging issues. While today’s cabin acoustics make conversations possible, background noise on a 45-minute flight is tolerated more with a noise-cancellation headset, said Lemos.
This may change with the VIP version of the EC175. “We want to establish a new standard in helicopter cabin quietude,” said Lemos, where passengers will be comfortable without headsets on flights of up to one-and-a-half hours. The hinged doors (as opposed to the standard version’s sliding doors) help, as they allow thicker interior door side ledges to be fitted.
Other features on the VIP EC175 will be passenger escalators, a new cabin management system and electro-chromatic windows. So far Airbus has sold two examples (to two customers) and it is planning to deliver one in January 2016 and the other later that year. The VIP and executive variants of the EC175, created by Pegasus Design, were introduced last year at EBACE.