Safran Helicopter Engines CEO Franck Saudo describes the helicopter market as “superb” even while acknowledging “severe supply-chain headwinds.” Speaking with reporters just ahead of Heli-Expo, Saudo characterized the business as “the best market I have seen for close to the past ten years.” With “positive momentum in next to all helicopter market segments” in “all geographical areas,” the upward trend prevails for both new helicopter demand and the aftermarket, he added. He attributed the scenario to an increase in worldwide helicopter flight hours, which have returned to pre-pandemic levels and contributed to a “robust and sustained demand for new helicopters” that has eclipsed the demand recorded in 2019.
Saudo said his company’s supply chain “remains very much constrained...mainly due to labor shortages” and constitutes “the number one challenge of our company in 2023.” He said that Safran has battled the problem by becoming increasingly vertically integrated and adding employees—400 last year and an estimated 200 in 2023. Material shortages are acute in steel, particularly superalloys, he added. “In the foreseeable future, I do not see an improvement,” Saudo said. “We keep assessing the situation.”
Citing a number of company milestones and accomplishments, Saudo noted Safran's fleet of 15,000 Arriel series engines achieving 60 million flight hours, significant OEM orders for Bell 505s and Airbus H125s and H160s, and the signing of large service contracts with the French government and the U.S. Army—the latter in support of the branch’s fleet of more than 400 Airbus Helicopters UH-72A/B Lakota models. He said the company continues its sustainability commitment, working to make its engines up to 20 percent more fuel efficient and moving toward certifying its engines to operate on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel. It also continues work on its “eco mode” feature, which rolls back one engine to flight idle while a twin-engine helicopter is in cruise flight, and advancing its long-term commitment to hybridization research.