Swiss OEM Kopter selected Lafayette, Louisiana, as the location for its U.S. production and service facility, company CEO Andreas Löwenstein and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) jointly announced on Tuesday morning at Heli-Expo 2019. Kopter is preparing to freeze the design on its large-cabin, single engine SH09 helicopter ahead of anticipated certification in the second quarter of 2020.
The company expects more than 50 percent of its market over the next decade to come from North America, with orders for 25 SH-09s already on the books from U.S. customers. Thus, the announcement tracks with its stated intention to have production facilities located near its demand centers. A similar facility is also planned for Asia.
Kopter will lease an 84,700-sq-ft facility from the Lafayette Airport Commission, which owns the complex, that was once occupied by Bell as a planned construction site for its 505 light single helicopter. Bell decided to build the 505 at its Mirabel facility in Canada, leaving the Louisiana site fallow.
The state initially funded construction of the $25.3 million facility, which occupies nearly 15 acres at Lafayette Regional Airport/Paul Fournet Field. While the lease on the facility was clear for reassignment, litigation against the former occupant is still proceeding, according to Don Pierson, Louisiana’s economic development secretary.
“We have here a turnkey solution,” said Löwenstein. “It’s a facility that has been built to assemble and deliver helicopters."
The company expects to begin outfitting and staffing the U.S. facility later this year, with an eye towards beginning production there later in 2020. The first U.S.-assembled SH-09 is expected to be delivered in 2021. Edwards noted that the company will create 120 jobs at the location with a $7 million payroll, and it is expected to ramp up production to 100 aircraft a year from the location by 2025.
“We are delighted that Kopter chose Louisiana and Lafayette for the assembly of a dynamic new aerospace product,” said Edwards, noting the company could have chosen any location in North America for its production and service hub. Indeed, according to Löwenstein, no fewer than 38 locations were evaluated by the company before it settled on Lafayette. “Louisiana’s outstanding workforce and facility assets, and our competitive business climate, make Lafayette the clear choice for Kopter’s future in the Americas.”
Löwenstein noted the most attractive feature area for the location is its role as a hub of activity for the U.S. helicopter market, with many operators serving the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is centrally located to customers throughout the U.S.
Among the incentives to further entice Kopter, the state offered its Faststart worker training program, along with a $2.5 million up-front industrial tax exemption. “Part of that is to renovate the production facility and part of that is some lease assistance,” explained Edwards. “It was a competitive incentive package that we put on top of the facility.”
Kopter plans for the production SH09s to incorporate 50 percent to 70 percent of U.S.-made components, and being built in Louisiana, to allow it to compete for government contracts. “We will quite easily with this set up reach levels of American content which will allow us to be an integral part of bigger contracts of that type in the future,” said Löwenstein.
As it prepares to ramp up production at its headquarters facility in Mollis, Switzerland, to an eventual 50 helicopters a year, the company is also planning a more than 215,000-sq-ft expansion. The additional space will be used for production of dynamic components, including rotor blades, gearboxes, and rotor heads, as well as housing testing rigs and warehouses. It expects to break ground this fall, with a targeted completion in 2021.