HAI Convention News

Leonardo Bolsters Lineup with Kopter Buy

 - January 28, 2020, 10:00 PM
As Kopter nears the final stages of the certification program for the SH09 single-engine utility helicopter, industry giant Leonardo bought the Swiss startup manufacturer from its Russian owner, with plans to accelerate the SH09’s market entry. Photo: Mariano Rosales

Before ever having put a helicopter into service, Swiss OEM Kopter has been sold to Leonardo, the two companies announced on the opening day of Heli-Expo 2020. The Italian manufacturer will acquire 100 percent of the Wetzikon, Switzerland-based company, which anticipates dual EASA/FAA certification for its SH09 light single by year-end. Leonardo expects the purchase from investment firm Lynwood to be completed in the first quarter, subject to regulatory approval.

The purchase price consists of a $185 million fixed component and an earn-out mechanism linked to certain milestones over the life of the program, starting in 2022. In 2016, Cyprus-based Lynwood, controlled by Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut, invested $270 million into the company.

While merger integration teams on both sides begin to meet, Kopter will continue to act as an autonomous legal entity and brand within Leonardo’s helicopter division, “for the time being,” according to Leonardo Helicopters managing director Gian Piero Cutillo. “We will start working together, obviously all the decisions will be made in the interest of Leonardo, but from now on we have a common target,” he noted, adding that he foresees no major changes with Kopter’s previously announced plans for a new U.S. production facility in Lafayette, Louisiana, which was announced at last year’s Heli-Expo.

At the announcement on the Heli-Expo 2020 show floor on Tuesday morning, Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo admitted to initial skepticism over the deal. “I would say that I was not enthusiastic, then the more we’re working on that, the more I was positive,” he told the crowd. That enthusiasm grew after the company’s test pilots evaluated and flew the SH09 and its engineers conducted detailed analysis.

“We really complete our product portfolio with that,” added Cutillo. “Leonardo is the leader in the three- to nine-tonne categories, with this opportunity, we think that we can be the leader also in [the light single] segment.” He acknowledged that Leonardo did not buy just a product, but is also adding capability to the family.

“Within Leonardo, we get the support to finalize our development on various fronts while keeping the ability to remain the agile, single-engine pioneer that we are,” said Kopter CEO Andreas Löwenstein. “I am very proud to join this company, and I am very proud that we will jointly conquer the market.”

He said that becoming part of Leonardo will immediately bring new testing infrastructure and certification experience to bear on the process for the SH09 program. “We have suddenly, from one day to another, all this knowledge in house.”

Leonardo has its own light single in the AW119, but Cutillo stated that he doesn’t view it as a competitor to the SH09. “I think that this, once it is completed, will offer different things to a different target of customer.” Once civil certification is achieved, Cutillo would not rule out the possibility of a military version of the SH09.

Kopter has largely frozen the design configuration of the SH09, which now sports a more streamlined fuselage, but testing of a new tail unit configuration has yet to be carried out. It will upgrade its P3 prototype incrementally to meet the production configuration by the third quarter, while the long-lead components for its first production-standard test helicopter, dubbed PS4, have already been ordered, with an eye towards its first flight in the third quarter.

The company expects to pursue a concurrent certification process with EASA and the FAA, using both P3 and PS4, according to Michele Riccobono, Kopter’s executive v-p of technology. “The idea initially was only to use PS4, but then we thought that after changing the scope of P3 and making the effort of upgrading the aircraft to this configuration, we have decided to shorten the lead time for certification to leverage both aircraft,” he told AIN at the show.

“Thanks to the fact that this is a relatively simple helicopter, the amount of flights needed for certification to prove compliance against Part 27 is not so huge and this is the reason why despite having the aircraft available for flight test only in Fall 2020, we are still confident we can achieve our target milestone for the certification.”

Last week in Italy, P3 flew for the first time with a new rotor head, which moved the blade controls outside the mast, easing maintenance concerns, and the blade package intended for the production design, which Riccobono said further reduced vibration in the helicopter.