Airbus Helicopters Sets New Priorities

 - February 1, 2014, 4:45 AM

With its new name in place, Airbus Helicopters (née Eurocopter) is embarking on a transformation, according to CEO Guillaume Faury. He wants production processes to improve, has reshuffled priorities in research and development (R&D) and envisions a new market for the company’s product line.

The new name is expected to provide better integration with the rest of the Airbus group, Faury told a meeting organized by the French association of aerospace journalists (AJPAE) late in December. What’s more, the Airbus name has a stronger, more global impact, “especially in countries that are important to us,” such as Brazil, the U.S., China and Russia, Faury said.

He wants Eurocopter’s production processes to improve with the goal of increasing productivity. To that end, he intends to accelerate automation of production lines and improve the way parts, subassemblies and components flow in the factory. Every job should have its “get it right the first time” rate improve.

Faury attributed program delays–for the EC175, the EC145T2 and the AS365N3e Dauphin–to a workforce overtaxed by the high volume of activity. He also cited the numerous modifications and upgrades military customers want the company to develop. Faury said he has now set clear priorities in R&D and has included the X4, the EC175 and the EC145T2 among his prime concerns. As a consequence last year, Eurocopter chose not to pursue some “business opportunities” that would have raised the R&D workload.

Asked about a possible follow-on program to the X3 compound helicopter demonstrator, Faury said no launch should be expected in the coming years. “Before this architecture translates into a program, we have to work with the operators to see if their business model can evolve,” he said. He was referring to the distinction operators make between rotary-wing and fixed-wing operations, while a compound is designed to bridge the two.

One concept demonstrator now being developed into a product is the electric backup motor. It was tested on an AS350 Ecureuil single in 2011. Improvements in motors and electric energy storage have made a sound business case for such hybrid power, Faury said. While not powerful enough to serve as a second engine, the system would make autorotation safer by countering any rpm drop and providing some power in the flare. Faury declined to give a time frame for certification.

He also expressed his vision for Eurocopter products. “We are selling high-end helicopters,” he said, rather than the “best value for money” models former CEO Lutz Bertling favored. “We have solutions for highly demanding customers; our systems must operate in complex environments,” Faury said, acknowledging that such a business strategy involves a lot of R&D and high costs.