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A breath of fresh Airbus in the Middle East

Posted 4 November 2019 · Add Comment

There's a new mood of confidence at Airbus Helicopters as the rotor market embraces new technologies and new opportunities. Dave Calderwood reports

Airbus Helicopters is gearing up to expand its sales and activities in the Middle East working with established partners in key locations and from its own base in Dubai.
A combination of new models such as the medium twin H160 and thoroughly modernised older helicopters, added to an expected upturn in demand in the region thanks to the oil price recovering, and an opening up of new sectors, gives Airbus Helicopters' boss Bruno Even confidence that the company can mirror its dominance in other markets around the world.
Globally, Airbus Helicopters has a 54 percent share of the helicopter market, thanks in part to its full range of aircraft from the best-selling single-engine H125 through a strong mid-range that includes the highly versatile H135 and H145, right up to the heavy Super Puma H225 family.
This wide spread of models means Airbus Helicopters can compete in each of the biggest sectors: Oil & Gas shuttles, Search & Rescue (SAR) operations, Emergency Services such as medevac, pilot training, and corporate and personal VIP flights.
It's also pitching for the developing tourism market where types such as the new H160, expected to be certified in late 2019 or early 2020 and with an order book already building, offer a comfortable and fast way to explore often difficult terrain.
First though, Airbus Helicopters is fine-tuning its service and support network, aware that this is key to keep customers - operators - flying and happy.
"The moment an Airbus helicopter is delivered, providing the customer with the necessary support and services to carry out their operations efficiently, safely and cost-effectively, is our duty and obligation," said Bruno Even, who became CEO of Airbus Helicopters in February 2018.
"Customer loyalty is a fundamental part of our company's strategy. It means that our company must remain focused on improving customer satisfaction, moving from being a 'product-centric' helicopter manufacturer to being a 'customer-centric' provider of end-to-end solutions.
"Customer loyalty is about helping our customers achieve mission success, about helicopters that are easy to operate; about proximity and understanding their requirements and their challenges."
Getting closer to customers isn't always easy in the Middle East where the sheer distances, sometimes hostile terrain and political tensions can get in the way. Airbus helicopters' way of working with this is to partner with key operators in different states.
So, on the horizon is a new technical office in Pakistan, Airbus Helicopters is already working with the Falcon Aviation Services maintenance centre in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and cooperating with AMMROC for helicopter overhauls.
It's expanding its regional industrial base relying on Eurocopter Kingdom Saudi Arabia, its largest subsidiary located in Saudi Arabia where more than 120 engineers and technicians are dedicated to the maintenance, overhaul and modernisation.
"Airbus has enjoyed a strong and positive presence in the Middle East," continued Mr Even. "Over the years we have initiated a number of strategic partnerships in the region that have contributed to the development of the industry by providing the best of expertise, services and products. It's always been our strategy to be closer to our customers. As of today, we count over a 1,000 employees in the region across all our divisions."
The Saudi connection is important to the manufacturer as many of the emerging opportunities are there.
"We see continuous opportunities in Emergency Medical Services and Search and Rescue missions, and with Saudi Arabia looking to open its skies to commercial operators, tourism and passenger transport could see the sharpest immediate growth," said Mr Even.
"We are very proud of our long lasting relationship with Saudi Arabia and we look forward to continue developing our partnership and engagement by exploring industrial collaboration opportunities in the Kingdom.
"By 2020 we will have around 80 helicopters flying [in Saudi Arabia]. Last year ARAMCO signed for five H145s and with the Kingdom looking to open its skies we see plenty of potential for our range of high-end civil products such as H145, H160 and the H175.
"The H145 has shown itself to be very durable and versatile and is particularly suited to operations in hot climates. And the NH90 NFH is the best maritime helicopter on the market and well adapted for multitude of missions.
"The Middle East is also rightly focused on new technologies and innovation which Airbus Helicopters offers through products such as H160, H175, and the development of Urban Air Mobility technology."
This last reference is to the various electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing projects, known as eVTOLs, currently either in development or proposed. Airbus has two such programmes, the CityAirbus air taxi, and Vahana, both already flying but, like others in the field, still a few years away from certification and entry-into-service.
Uber, the US taxi company that kickstarted the eVTOL frenzy with its Elevate air taxi concept, recently admitted that existing helicopters are a better bet than eVTOLs in the short term, which is a surprise shot in the arm for the newly formed Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH) division. ACH made its debut at MEBAA in December 2018.
"There is substantial interest in Airbus Corporate Helicopters for both the ACH145 and the ACH160. Whether for private owners or large corporations, ACH offers its customers fully tailored interiors - including special collaborations with Hermes and Mercedes-Benz - as well as global support and full service and maintenance. Furthermore Airbus is the only OEM offering a dedicated platform for private and business aviation which is a major differentiator."

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