Frédéric Lemos, head of Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH), is tasked with kickstarting the OEM luxury helicopter brand. Launched in May 2017 at the EBACE show in Geneva, Switzerland, ACH mirrors the brand structure of Airbus Corporate Jets, with the goal of establishing “end-to-end” service for customers who can make use of a helicopter to complement their business jet experience.
“This is more than just branding,” Lemos told AIN while showing the mockup of the ACH145 on the static display line at MEBAA. “It’s a tailored 24/7 service for customers.” The ACH line includes three interior levels: ACH Line—with in-house sports-car-inspired design; ACH Exclusive; and ACH Edition. The mockup on display was derived by Mercedes-Benz and features six leather seats, two between-seat galleys, fore and aft rows, and high-end carpeting.
Maximum seating is eight passengers (with both galleys removed). In all, there are nine possible seating/baggage configurations possible, and the helicopter can be easily reconfigured for all of them. Like the seats, the baggage divider wall is mounted on rails and can be easily moved forward to accommodate more luggage, or aft to enlarge the passenger seating area. Reconfiguring the interior does not require a maintenance technician.
ACH models can all be configured with fewer seats to carry cargo and are popular with the yachting industry for that reason. They can serve as VIP transport in the morning and used for resupply or other cargo duty later.
The ACH160, due for certification by the end of 2019, features standard sliding doors and a lightweight, sports-car interior. Its wide cabin enables comfortable seating for eight passengers.
ACH has delivered its first ACH175 medium-heavy helicopter (seven tonnes) to serve on a large yacht. Its cabin has the same width as a Challenger 300 business jet and boasts a “jet experience,” according to Lemos. “It has two cabin zones and it’s quiet enough that headsets are not required.”
Low maintenance costs are a strong selling point for the ACH line, Lemos said, adding that low downtime is potentially an even bigger draw for the yachting market. “Our helicopters need their first inspection at one year or 400 hours. Our clients average 100 to 150 hours per year, so that makes it a very convenient helicopter to operate in the yachting market.”
Lemos sees the Middle East as a promising sales territory, though at 70 percent, the majority of business remains in Europe and North America.
“Customers in this region like to see the product in person before making a decision," he said. "The ACH160 is still not certified, so it’s still a product on paper. And the owners of ACH175s in service don’t want to give up their helicopters for us to use as demonstrators. Once we are able to get a flying helicopter to the region, I am confident they will sell well. Flying it is buying it.”