Undisputed industry heavyweight Eurocopter adds to order backlog
Eurocopter, already the world’s largest helicopter manufacturer, shows no signs that its meteoric sales pace will let up anytime soon.
Last year the company delivered 381 new helicopters worth more than $5 billion and booked orders for 615 helicopters with a combined value of $6.45 billion. Those figures represent a substantial increase from Eurocopter’s 2005 order book, valued at $4.64 billion.
By the end of last year, Eurocopter’s total order backlog stood at $14.52 billion and its sales represented 52 percent of the worldwide civil and parapublic helicopter sector. In the U.S., Eurocopter continues its aggressive pursuit of the military, offshore, EMS and law enforcement markets.
Last year Eurocopter won the U.S. Army’s Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) competition for 322 helicopters valued at more than $3 billion. The LUH will be a military variant of the company’s EC 145 and designated the UH-72A Lakota. It will replace the Army’s existing and aging fleet of UH-1s and OH-58s between now and 2015 and will be flown primarily by National Guard units in support of homeland security missions.
Eurocopter rolled out the first UH-72A in December from its Columbus, Miss. plant which is operated by subsidiary America Eurocopter.
The Army contract follows another major U.S. government sales win, the Department of Homeland Security’s 2004 order for 55 EC 120Bs and four AS 350B3s for the U.S. Border Patrol.
While the Army’s order was not Eurocopter’s first from the Pentagon, it was its most significant. During the 1980s, Eurocopter supplied a fleet of more than 90 of its HH-65 Dolphins to the U.S. Coast Guard. Earlier this year, the company completed an order for 89 re-engining kits for those helicopters.
The kits include new Fadec-controlled Turbomeca Arriel 2C2 turboshaft engines that produce 42 percent more power than the originals. Main and tail rotor gearbox upgrades to accommodate the more powerful engines are included in the kit, along with a reconfigured cockpit control panel with a new vehicle and engine management display (VEMD).
An upgraded VEMD also is featured in an upgraded variant of Eurocopter’s AS 355N Ecureuil/ TwinStar. Designated the AS 355NP, the helicopter will be powered by twin Turbomeca Arrius 1A1 engines. They feature a new high-pressure turbine that increases emergency power for improved OEI performance (two minutes, 30 seconds maximum emergency power). Other improvements include enhanced Cat-A performance, allowing takeoffs at maximum gross weight up to sea level ISA+10 and an increase of 20 percent in external sling loads. The higher loading is facilitated by a new gearbox derived from that used on the AS 350B3. The aircraft’s finish and interior also has been upgraded for corporate applications. The AS 355NP received EASA certification on February 15 and initial deliveries are expected to begin by June.
Twin Sales Strong
Medium and light twins, such as the AS 355NP, are increasingly finding a home in offshore oil and gas operations. Heavy Eurocopters, like the Super Puma, have long been used in the North Sea. But medium and light twins and even some singles are now showing up on platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, South America and other markets. Eurcopter’s total fleet in support of offshore operations now numbers 540, or 40 percent of the market. The company is focusing on marketing an entire family of aircraft–including the EC 135, EC 145, EC 155 and EC 225–to this segment of the industry.
Eurocopter last year delivered 15 EC 135s to operators in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil. Worldwide, 26 EC 155s and 24 EC 225s are operated in offshore service.
In the EMS market, Eurocopter continues to make inroads, most recently booking an order for 24 AS 350B3s from Omniflight Helicopters for delivery between 2008 and 2010. This order comes on the heels an earlier one placed by Omniflight for seven AS 350B3s, which Eurocopter delivered last year.
Omniflight, based in Addison, Texas, provides air medical services to more than 50 EMS programs in 15 states. Omniflight CEO Gaylan Crowell cited the B3’s high-altitude performance as a factor in the acquisition decision. “We do a fair amount of high-altitude work in Arizona and Montana,” he said.
Eurocopter currently holds 60 percent of the U.S. airborne law enforcement market and in 2006 made significant deliveries to police and sheriffs’ agencies.