Airbus Helicopters handed over the first two EC175s yesterday, to Belgian operator NHV (Noordzee Helicopters Vlaanderen), one of three launch customers for the type. Commercial operations are set to begin in late December in the North Sea with one helicopter, with the second standing by as a backup for at least the first few days.
“We have to make [the helicopter] a success…there is no other [option,]” said Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus Helicopters, during the December 11 handover ceremony in Marignane, France. Dedicated to the oil-and-gas market, the seven-ton EC175 fills the gap between the Dolphin and the Super Puma. According to Airbus Helicopters, 90 percent of the North Sea’s offshore installations are within reach of its new helicopter with 16 passengers on board and a crew of two.
Back on Track
NHV is a Belgian-registered company active in the oil and gas market, primarily in the North Sea and western Africa. NHV also offers maritime services and has been flying a variety of Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft since 1997. NHV sees its newest model as “a cost killer.”
The company ordered 16 aircraft and will receive six in 2015, two more in 2016 and the remainder the following year. The operator plans to base half of its fleet in the North Sea and some others in western Africa. Because the de-icing system is not yet certified, there is no plan to base helicopters in Norway. As a result of the two-year delivery delay, attributable mainly to the Helionix avionics certification process, NHV has revised its business plan accordingly and is confident it will be back on track for growth in 2015, said Eric Van Hal, NHV CEO.
The helicopter received EASA certification in January 2014 (Russian and FAA certifications are expected in early 2015), and Airbus Helicopters went to great lengths to deliver a mature helicopter and ensure the highest level of safety and availability from day one. The pilot training program in Marignane began last summer and so far has put 20 pilots through ground training, level-D full-flight simulation and actual flight instruction. NHV pilots each flew 40 hours in the sim and four hours in the helicopter, two hours of which were the check ride leading to qualification. Thirty technicians have received EC175 maintenance type rating training, and they have access to the web-based interactive technical publications. NHV will also benefit from a tailored support program that provides one mechanic and one avionics specialist on site. Airbus Helicopters has invested much effort in spare parts, widely viewed as the company’s Achilles’ heel, with more than 1,000 items already placed in NHV’s inventories, according to Dominique Maudet, executive vice president for global business and services for Airbus Helicopters.
The EC175 backlog stands at 64 aircraft, nearly two thirds of which are on firm order; the remainder are options. Eighteen aircraft are on the final assembly line and the Chinese parts (fuselage, tailboom, intermediate gearbox and tail box) are now said to be up to spec and delivered on time.
Airbus Helicopters said it is committed to delivering the first three aircraft to launch customers by the end of 2014; NHV took the first two and the Russian company UT Air will receive the third. Heli Union, the third launch customer, will get its aircraft early in 2015. UT Air has ordered 15 EC175s, but delivery dates for 2015 have not been disclosed yet. “We are in contact to find relevant delivery dates,” said Faury. “The uncertainties are linked to the fast evolving economic situation in Russia.”