In 1996, Eurocopter became the first Western rotorcraft maker to enter the Russian market and it is testament to the sector’s great potential that the company is now facing a more concerted challenge in the country from rivals such as AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopters. The Franco-German manufacturer now claims 70 percent of the market for Western-made helicopters in Russia and the CIS and according to Eurocopter Vostok managing director Laurence Rigolini there is now rising demand across three main applications: VIP and corporate transportation; commercial operations (supporting activities such as pipeline support and moving industrial workers to remote sites); and parapublic missions, such as emergency medical flights.
Next year, long-standing customer UTair is due to take delivery of the first example of the new 16-passenger EC175 to enter service in Russia. The Siberia-based operator is already an authorized service center for Eurocopter’s Ecureuil series. The AS350 B3 model has proved to be an especially popular workhorse in Russia.
Eurocopter has just completed delivery of the last of 20 Ecureuil-series aircraft ordered by UTair, with the arrival of an AS350 B3e single at the operator’s Tyumen headquarters. In 2010, UTair signed a contract for copies of the 14 B3e and six of the AS355 NP.
“We have been a loyal Eurocopter customer for a long time, and over the years the company has confirmed its reputation as a manufacturer of outstanding helicopters and a partner that delivers on its promises,” said UTair general director Andrey Martirosov. “It builds machines that are undisputed leaders in their classes and it knows how to stick to a tight schedule. Our satisfaction with the services provided by Eurocopter Vostok and our commitment to these machines means that our Eurocopter fleet will continue to grow and we’ll expand our service and support network in Tyumen, Surgut and other locations where we are active.”
Another significant Russian customer for Eurocopter is energy group Gazprom Avia, which fields a fleet of eight EC135s that it uses for tasks such as supporting geophysical work, pipeline support and transporting executives. Emergency medical services in the country have shown a strong interest in both the EC135 and the larger EC145 and Moscow city authorities now have three EC145s in operation for this role.
According to Rigolini, helicopter access to urban centers continues to be restricted in Russia, but is probably no more difficult to achieve than it is in many major Western European cities. This week a new helipad opened at Moscow’s Sheremetievo International Airport and in May another landing site opened at the Crocus exhibition center in the suburbs of the Russian capital.
Overall, the number of Eurocopters based in Russia and neighboring CIS countries has more than doubled in the past five years, to more than 200. This is despite the fact that Russia continues to impose a 20-percent import duty plus 20-percent VAT sales tax on imported aircraft. The Russian government continues to view helicopters as a duel civil/military product by the Russian government and so the way they are sold and operated continues to be heavily regulated.
“It is now a lot easier to support our aircraft than it was, but it is still not easy, with issues such as customs and administrative requirements being a challenge, but we have very skilled people working on this,” explained Rigolini.
Russia and the CIS is a vast territory, with extreme fluctuations in climate that can be hard on aircraft. Eurocopter Vostok, the Moscow-based subsidiary established in 2005, supports the local fleet. “Our aircraft have to be able to operate in very extreme conditions and [by doing so] they are providing access to remote places that cannot be reached by road, rail and boat,” Rigolini told AIN.
The French executive has been running Eurocopter Vostok for the past four years and continues to see enormous potential throughout the CIS. “The GDP growth of these countries is amazing and we are expecting that sales of civil helicopters will continue to rise,” she commented, highlighting Ukraine as a country with particularly strong demand for helicopters.
Here at the JetExpo show, Eurocopter is exhibiting an AS350 B3 featuring a four-passenger VIP cabin interior that the company describes as “stunning.” The group established its Russian subsidiary in 2005 and the Moscow-based organization employs 30 Russian-speaking staff.