Markus Schmitz is President and General Manager of Becker Avionics. He spoke with Rotor & Wing on Thursday about various topics, including what to expect from the Miramar, Fla.-based company during Heli-Expo and beyond.
Rotor & Wing: What is Becker showcasing during Heli-Expo?
Schmitz: Things are staying vibrant at Becker these days. We just signed a teaming agreement with Axnes Aviation to work together on sales, marketing and product support for the Axnes Polycon wireless intercom system. Becker in the U.S. will be responsible for marketing the product line in North and South America, including military, government and civil customers. In addition, Becker will act as the service and repair center for Polycon in the assigned territories. Becker Avionics has also established a new corporate strategy for Japan. Our new strategy focuses on establishing an enhanced presence and customer support infrastructure in Japan. In support of this program, we’ve signed new agreements with Mainami Kuko Service Company and Jamco. The agreements are part of a strategic plan to further develop the Japanese aviation market and forms part of the overall company’s growth initiatives.
Rotor & Wing: What are the recent trends Becker is seeing in the U.S. and international helicopter industry?
Schmitz: Technology is accelerating like never before and it is clear that we will see a whole new paradigm of innovation—be it in increasing the flight performance of helicopters or making them more environmental friendly, or by reducing fuel consumption, exhaust and noise pollution. With Sikorsky’s move to think outside the box and take on new technologies like the X2, other aircraft OEMs have to follow. We’ve seen Eurocopter’s reaction with the X3 demonstrator and I’m sure others are pushing their thinktanks in order to avoid staying behind. In regards to avionics, the trend toward more integrated systems, lower size, weight, and power consumption is unbroken. Avionics technology is constantly evolving and we are seeing that Garmin is aggressively moving into all market segments and introducing new technologies, designs, functionality and HMIs. The requirement for advanced avionics has not been broken, but of course the helicopter industry is not a fast-moving industry like the consumer electronics industry, either.
Rotor & Wing: How did the recent global economic slowdown impact Becker, and what is the company forecasting for 2011?
Schmitz: It looks like we are out of the woods and business is steadily picking up. The economic downturn hit us hard in certain segments, especially in the general aviation sector, which experienced double-digit reductions in 2009 and 2010. Luckily, we already started to shift our focus and resources to the professional aviation markets at the tail end of 2008 in order to push our digital audio and intercom system—DVCS6100. This really paid off and gave us the opportunity to surpass pre-downturn sales revenue figures in 2010, which was the best year Becker Avionics had in the U.S. and the projections for 2011 look very promising.
Rotor & Wing: What are the company’s goals and growth plans for the next two or three years? What areas of the helicopter industry will Becker focus on?
Schmitz: Part of the strategic growth plan is to strengthen our presence in the U.S., as it is critical for us to be competitive in the largest aviation market in the world. In 2010 we received the FAA production certificate to manufacture the DVCS6100 at our facility in Miramar. The new production line will accelerate the transformation of Becker in the U.S. and help ensure that we serve the American aviation markets more closely. As part of the overall strategy, our business concept shifted to focus more on the professional aviation markets, fixed-wing and rotorcraft. Over the next two to three years, Becker will introduce a number of new products to gain market share, especially in the U.S. Of course we’ll continue to stay at the forefront of technology and innovation when it comes to audio and intercom systems, but we’re also moving forward with the introduction of new technologies in the CNS [communications, navigation and surveillance] equipment field.
The established roadmap already is positively impacting our business. Despite a down economy we exceeded expectations and completed 2010 with significant revenue growth, strong margin improvement and full order books. The underlying growth in the U.S. was over 20 percent in 2010, and we are confident in forecasting double-digit sales growth for the coming years.
Rotor & Wing: Please provide an update on the DVCS6100.
Schmitz: The market has responded very well to the digital audio system and we are gaining a lot of momentum. We doubled sales from 2009 to 2010 and sold over 100 systems in the U.S., including 40 systems to American Eurocopter for the UH-72 Lakota program last year. Once operators are exposed to the technology and understand the advantages, it becomes a natural choice. The DVCS6100 design provides the ability to match a wide range of operational requirements with only one system. The built-in scalability and flexibility reduces not only the cost and time requirements for constant re-engineering and certification, but also reduces the learning curve for time spent with integration, maintenance and troubleshooting.
Rotor & Wing: We’ve noticed a lot of activity involving the DVCS6100 in recent weeks, including from the law enforcement, special mission, EMS and firefighting sectors. What other sectors is it seeing use in?
Schmitz: The DVCS6100 performance and flexibility is appreciated in those market segments due to its functionality and outstanding HMI. The system is price-competitive to analog audio systems when clients require multiple radios and audio sources, or three audio control panels or more. We also have multiple VIP customers and offshore operators who fly our system.
Rotor & Wing: What else is Becker highlighting during Heli-Expo?
Schmitz: Next to the DVCS 6100, we are also showcasing our latest CNS and SAR equipment—for example, the new MR510 personal locator beacon. The MR510 is a significant safety tool for helicopter and aircraft crews in case of emergency. Class I COSPAS-SARSAT certified down to -40 degrees Celsius, the unit provides automatic water activation, VHF/UHF voice communication and a 12-channel GPS system to provide detection and accurate location positioning anywhere in the world. We will also offer live demonstrations of the Polycon Wireless Headset Communication System at our booth.
Rotor & Wing: In your view, why should operators continue to choose Becker’s avionics for their helicopter needs?
Schmitz: Becker stands for avionics that deliver the performance and quality operators need. Our products meet the highest requirements for avionics and related equipment, and are in operation with a wide range of commercial and military operators. Pretty much all our products are ETSO and TSO-certified and have to comply with the highest regulations. For example, we spend the time and money to certify and test our products to the latest DO160 vibration level requirements to ensure that they will perform even in the harshest environments. We understand that our service and support must keep operators flying safely and reliably at all times. Therefore, we’ve invested in an exchange pool and introduced component exchange services in order to mitigate aircraft downtime during AOG situations. Operators have recognized us for consistently meeting and exceeding expectations, and for providing a high quality service and cost-effective solutions.