Bell Helicopter places at the top in seven out of the nine Rotor & Wing 2013 Excellence Ratings categories, continuing its run as the leader in customer service among helicopter OEMs. Photo courtesy of Bell
Statistics in business are like the light post to the drunk … they are used far more for support, than for illumination.” A lot of numbers get tossed around in support of one helicopter maker over another, but it can sometimes be difficult to find data that sheds any real light. Of course the tangible numbers for each unique make and model are all readily available – speed, range, fuel consumption, TBO (time between overhaul) on timed components, useful load, HOGE (hover out of ground effect) – all the usual suspects. Those are generally the numbers used to choose one particular size and class of aircraft over another. But there are often 3-4 choices within each class being offered by the various manufacturers, each with relatively similar performance characteristics and each with a slightly unique set of benefits. A logical case can generally be made for more than one choice.
Sikorsky’s X2/S-97, CH-53K and partnership with Boeing on Joint Multi-Role (above) contribute to its placement at the top of the Technological Innovations ratings, followed closely by Eurocopter – which has developed its X3 (X-cubed, top left at Paris Air Show) – and Bell, which has bid its V-280 tiltrotor (top right, courtesy of Bell) in the JMR competition. AgustaWestland comes in at the fourth spot, and may receive a boost in future ratings due to its recently unveiled Project Zero electric tiltrotor. X3 photo by Andrew Drwiega
Aircraft purchase decisions thus also have to factor in many less easily quantifiable factors, such as general customer service and how a manufacturer has been known to respond to an AOG situation. Other owners and operators are your best source of insight related to more subjective and less tangible questions like: How good is the factory training? How easy is it to read and understand the technical documentation? How long should you expect to wait for parts? And a broad consensus of insight from other owners is always better than anecdotal stories that may or may not be representative of any one company. The ratings are designed to provide answers to all those questions by placing quantifiable values on those less tangible factors, by surveying a broad, worldwide base of operators representing a cross section of every level and segment of the rotorcraft market.
During the 2013 Paris Air Show, AgustaWestland announced that the AW189 has entered the production line at the manufacturer’s facility in Vergiate, Italy. The initial pair of offshore-configured AW189s are projected for delivery by the end of 2013 following EASA certification this summer. Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland
The Rotor & Wing team began by sending this survey to you, our subscribers, during April and May 2013. Collectively, you have long represented the most accurate and representative sampling of the overall rotorcraft market available. So after we tallied the first batch of somewhere around 800 responses from our subscriber list, we developed a few charts showing a preview of the key findings and forwarded them to each of the helicopter OEMs, who are aggressively marketing and selling helicopters outside of their home countries. We sent these preliminary charts, along with a link to the web address where anyone could log on and answer the survey, and we offered each manufacturer the opportunity to send that link out to their own customer lists. We wanted to make certain to give each manufacturer the opportunity to be accurately and fairly represented in the results, and the approach seemed to work very well. We kept the survey open another six weeks and finally closed it with just under 2,000 total responses (1,996).
For the purposes of the Excellence Ratings, we culled the responses down to just those who are operating helicopters in a non-military organization. We also set aside all the responses that came from those who work in the helicopter industry within organizations that do not actually operate helicopters. However, the valuable insight these individuals have provided will be used and referenced in other ways throughout the coming year.
We ended up with just over 900 total responses, and it is from these that we have produced the following charts that make up the 2013 Rotor & Wing OEM Excellence Ratings. The charts represent the percentage of respondents who ranked the manufacturer’s support or position in a given area as Excellent or Above Average.
For comparison, and as a “check” against the broad industry perceptions represented in the Excellence Ratings, we have also included “Customer Report Cards” for each manufacturer. Customer Report Cards represent the opinions of those respondents who actually own and operate that manufacturer’s aircraft.
The responses comprise roughly 60 percent from North America and 40 percent from the rest of world, representative of the distribution of the traditional “western” helicopter fleet. However, that is beginning to change as Russian Helicopters has begun to expand outside its traditional market of former Soviet bloc countries, and even Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) displayed its helicopter wares at Heli-Expo for the first time earlier this year.
The breakdown for respondents outside North America is 12.6 percent from Asia and Oceania, 11.3 percent from Western Europe and 7.3 percent from central and South America, with 3 percent from the Middle East, 2.7 percent from Eastern Europe (including Russia), and 2.5 from Africa.
A wide variety of operational types is represented in the survey, including around 31 percent from corporate/VIP operators, 28 percent EMS/medical transport, more than 30 percent personnel transport (with 15 percent of that figure related to offshore), 16 percent general utility/equipment transport, 16 percent law enforcement, 15 percent sightseeing/tourism and 11 percent firefighting (the total numbers add up to more than 100 percent because of multiple-use applications).
The survey also provided some insight into the purchasing plans of 884 commercial operators who answered a question about whether their organization plans to buy a helicopter in the next 12 months. A total of 56.8 percent of the 884 said helicopter purchases are planned across their organization in the next year, with around 40 percent of those planning to buy two or more helicopters. More than five new helicopters are on the radar for 13.9 percent of the respondents to the purchase question. New helicopters account for around 38 percent of those planned purchases, with used, leases and military surplus accounting for most of the remaining acquisitions.
• 1,992 total surveys completed (compared to 1,985 in the 2007 ratings)
• 930 commercial operators used to compile OEM Excellence Ratings results, after removing military operators and business/industry respondents (up from 789 total qualified responses in the 2007 survey)
• Charts represent the percentage of operators who ranked manufacturer support as Excellent/Above Average
• Customer Report Cards represent the opinions of those respondents who actually own and operate that manufacturer’s aircraft, without regard to sample size.
Bell Helicopter tops the charts in a majority of the categories (seven out of nine), continuing the company’s historical reputation as being the customer support king of the helicopter industry. One exception to Bell’s dominance is in the areas of Technological Innovations (where Sikorsky’s X2/S-97, CH-53K and other Sikorsky Innovations projects lands it in the top spot), followed closely by Eurocopter – which has developed its X3 (X-cubed) technology – and Bell, which is anchored by the fly-by-wire 525 Relentless that was unveiled in March 2012. AgustaWestland comes in at the fourth spot in Tech Innovations, and may receive a boost in the next Excellence Ratings as the effects of its recently uncovered Project Zero electric tiltrotor are factored in. The other area that Bell comes in a close second is Overall Aircraft Performance, where Eurocopter sits perched atop the category. Sikorsky and AgustaWestland come in north of 70 percent Excellent or Above Average in performance, with MD Helicopters, Robinson and Boeing in the next group between around 50 and 60 percent Excellent/Above Average.
Respondents rated Bell at 72 percent Excellent/Above Average in the highly coveted Customer Support category, followed by Sikorsky (62 percent), Robinson and Eurocopter (at 55 and 54 percent, respectively). AgustaWestland, MD and Boeing are the next three in the Customer Support group, all in the 40-50 percent range.
Torrance, Calif.-based Robinson places in the top five in seven out of nine Excellence Ratings categories. The R66 recently obtained a type certificate from Transport Canada. Photo courtesy Robinson