LONDON — Eurocopter is preparing to ramp up production of its Super Puma family of helicopters despite the grounding of the EC225 oil and gas fleet.
According to Super Puma Program Director Janick Blanc, the company is extending the line at the company’s Marignane facilities near Marseille, France, and creating a pulse line that will allow the company to produce around 50-60 Super Puma family helicopters from 2014 compared to around 30 currently built now.
The Super Puma family includes the EC225 civil helicopter and the EC725 military helicopter, as well as the AS332L1e, AS332L+ and AS332C1e variants of the Super Puma developed in the 1980s.
The AS332C1e is a short-fuselage version of the Super Puma, which Eurocopter sees as a direct competitor to the Mil Mi-8 and Mi-17 family of helicopters produced in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The company believes it can capture a market share from operators who use the Russian-built helicopter for general utility and transport work such as United Nations humanitarian support.
The Mi-8s are often chartered by the U.N. because of their relatively low acquisition cost. But Eurocopter argues that the type has a higher operating cost and that by using the Puma, companies would have a higher initial outlay but lower operating cost. So far the company has sold two of the AS332C1e’s to Starlite Aviation of South Africa. The first aircraft is now undergoing flight test and should achieve European Aviation Safety Agency certification during the second half of this year. The L1+ and L1e were certified last year, and the first L1e’s are being prepared for delivery to the Finnish Coast Guard, which will use the type for search and rescue.
The company is in the process of delivering EC725 helicopters to the Malaysian air force and will shortly deliver a pair of AS332L1 Super Pumas to the government of Georgia for VIP operations. Also on the production line was the 16th EC725 for the Brazilian armed forces. This aircraft will be the last EC725 in the Brazilian H-XBR program to be built in France. After delivery of that aircraft, all the following aircraft will be assembled and test flown by Eurocopter’s Brazilian subsidiary Helibras, based in Itajuba in Minas Gerais state.