When Marenco Swisshelicopter unveiled the mock-up of its radical-looking, single-engined light helicopter at Heli-Expo in 2011, critics were quick to pass judgment.
They questioned the business model and the ability to keep costs low while building the aircraft in a country considered to be the most expensive in Europe.
But now, almost three years later, the company is ready to answer its detractors. On Nov. 28, the company unveiled the first prototype Skye SH09 helicopter at the company's facility in Mollis, southeast of Zurich. Marenco will soon announce that its order book has swollen to 48 aircraft, a backlog large enough to push production into its third year.
The company believes several of these customers could top-up their orders once they have seen how the aircraft performs.
Marenco and its investors say they have spent just €50 million ($68 million) on the aircraft's development so far, a drop in the ocean compared to development programs by Eurocopter or AgustaWestland. The company is highly confident it will quickly find a niche, taking a lesson from the Anglo-Italian manufacturer's AW139 and AW169 products.
“AgustaWestland has learned that you do not need to preserve old product lines,” says Mathias Senes, chief commercial officer at Marenco Swisshelicopter and a former Eurocopter sales executive. “Their AW169 will sell well because it's a new model in a market competing with an old design but is also biting on the product in the level above as well. This is how we see the Skye SH09, for us. The competition was designed in the 1970s, and the industry is ready for a newcomer.”
Senes sees the aircraft competing against Eurocopter's AS350 Ecureuil, the Bell 407 and in the future, AgustaWestland's new 2.5-metric-ton helicopter developed in partnership with Russian Helicopters and potentially “biting” into the light-twin market as well.