Airbus Helicopters says issues with its EC225 and EC135 helicopters have “strengthened its determination in the area of safety.”
The grounding of the EC225 from October 2012 to July 2013, followed by the November crash of an EC135T2 in Glasgow, Scotland, had a broad effect on public perception, but also caused new aircraft programs to be delayed and sales early in the year to slump. That prompted CEO Guillaume Faury to implement an action plan which he says has helped to recover sales and deliveries.
“2013 was a very difficult year,” Faury said, speaking at the company’s annual press conference in Paris on Jan. 28. “The level of bookings was unusually slow in the first half of the year,” Faury said, pointing out that the difficult market had prompted the company to “target single-digit growth in terms of revenue for the year.”
Faury took over control of the company in May, after former CEO Lutz Bertling took on a new role at Bombardier.
Deliveries increased to 497 helicopters in 2013, up compared with 2012, when 475 were delivered. The market has still yet to return to the heady days of 2008, when the company reported 588 deliveries. Sales did drop, however, with 422 ordered compared to 469 in 2012. The main disappointments for the company were slow sales of the new EC175, which recorded just five orders.
Heavy aircraft production was strong, with orders for 33 Super Puma/EC225s and 34 military NH90s. Faury said he was satisfied with the sales performance of the long-struggling AS365 Dauphin/EC155 family, of which 17 were sold, and a new version of the AS365, the N3e, which will be certified by the end of 2014.
Faury claims the company has captured 46% of the civil market, but its share of the military market dropped again, from 18% in 2012 to 11% in 2013. The company would not reveal figures on turnover. These details will be announced when the Airbus Group reports at the end of February.
“Major programs are a priority,” Faury said, pointing out that production ramp-ups for both the NH90 and the Tiger attack helicopter were planned for 2014.
The company says the certification process for its long-delayed EC175 medium-twin has been completed and the aircraft should be certified in the coming days. Deliveries to the three main launch customers – NHV, UTAir and Heli-Union – are due to take place in the second or third quarter of this year. The delayed EC145 T2 light twin will also be certified in 2014.
The future of the company’s so-called X-programs is less clear, as Faury backed away from comments by his predecessor that the company would fly at least three new models by 2020 as part of a wider plan to reinvigorate its product line. Of the known X-programs, the X4 is the closest to completion. Faury says the new aircraft, which will replace the AS365 Dauphin and probably compete directly with the AgustaWestland AW139, is a top priority. He added that more on the program will be communicated later this year, indicating that the aircraft is unlikely to be unveiled at this year’s Heli-Expo. Company executives have indicated that the planned second version, which Bertling had previously said would represent a “step change in helicopter operation,” might well be pushed back into the 2020s.