By S.L. Fuller | February 1, 2018
Marenco Swisshelicopter’s CEO, Andreas Löwenstein, addressed a crowd Thursday at the company’s new headquarters in Wetzikon, Switzerland:
“We are stepping away from an engineering company. We were an engineering company. And we are becoming — I would say, ‘today,’ — a full-fledged helicopter manufacturer. And this, we have to mark.”
The company chose to mark the occasion by doing away with “Marenco Swisshelicopter” — that company no longer exists. The name was too long, it said. People from some countries found it difficult to pronounce. Thus, he company that has been developing the same helicopter for nearly 10 years with delayed certification targets has been replaced.
Now there is Kopter, spelled with a "K" to make evident the company's roots. Löwenstein said with conviction Thursday that the SKYe SH09 — the single-engine that kept its name — will be certificated by EASA next year. The company is aiming for the first quarter.
In 2011, the company was hoping to have certification activities completed by 2015 or 2016. But then 2016 came around, and what was then Marenco readjusted its aim for certification in 2017. And then it was March 2017, and newly appointed Löwenstein, who took over after CEO Martin Stucki retired, readjusted aim once again for certification in 2018.
But now, the Kopter team is aiming for the first quarter of 2019, with FAA certification following no more than eight months later.
Is the industry taking Kopter seriously this time? CTO Michele Riccobono told R&WI that it is. Proof lies, he said, in the fact that the industry is approaching the company, wanting to be part of the program. Operators are wondering how to order, and vendors are wondering if Kopter is looking for partnerships.
Löwenstein said Kopter believes that if its current volume of orders continues as it is, the first two or three years of aircraft will be sold out. Kopter has received 27 firm orders with down payments, and 19 more are contingent on certification. Löwenstein said the company also has 120 letters of intent.
Those customers are worldwide, and Kopter has plans to make it business worldwide. Already, a Kopter facility in Munich is responsible for engineering support, houses the certification systems center, and should one day house mission equipment and related supplemental type certification activities. There’s already a branch of Kopter setting up shop in Dallas to work sales and market development.
Kopter aims to build a final assembly facility in Asia and perhaps the U.S.
The manufacturer’s staff is international, as well. Kopter’s some 250 employees represent 19 nationalities.
But the core of the business will remain in Switzerland to leverage Swiss values. Löwenstein said those include precision, reliability, dependability and quality. All Class A components, critical components, are to be made domestically.
Dynamic component testing is designated to Ennetmoos. Manufacturing, pre-assembly and supply chain activities are in Näfels. Mollis, which was treated with a ceremonial ribbon cutting Thursday, houses assembly and flight test activities. And, of course, headquarters and engineering are in Wetzikon.
“When you do a job like ours,” Löwenstein said, “you cannot think to do it only in one region or in a very localized way.”
That’s what Kopter feels is different now than the Marenco Swisshelicopter that has been trying since 2009 to turn a clean-sheet design into reality: The company is now strategizing all aspects of being an original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The focus has widened from solely the SH09 to the entire business of making helicopters. Löwenstein said Kopter plans to eventually offer more than one product.
In 10 years, he said, he expects Kopter to be one of the top three OEMs in the civil market. The SH09 is to compete with the Leonardo AW119, Bell Helicopter 407, and Airbus Helicopters H130 and H125.
The down helicopter market has not discouraged Löwenstein. It hasn’t been favorable due to oil and gas reasons, he said. The SH09 is not concerned with that segment. The helicopter industry is also a cycle, he continued. A multi-decade rotorcraft industry veteran, Löwenstein said he knows how cyclic business can be.
“’Cycle’ means down cycle, but after the down cycle, you have always an up cycle,” he said. “We are not the only ones to see and to believe that we are now in front of the upside.”
Another reason for his confidence is that he believes the SH09 fills a gap. Existing products in the single-engine market, Löwenstein said, were developed in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Every change of the fleet in this segment, depending on the countries where you are, is somewhere between 20 and 25 years. So there’s a huge replacement market and replacement need,” he said. “What we believe in is that operators, once they feel that this aircraft is really delivering a difference, they will start replacing the fleet with our aircraft. So we expect that we will take a significant market share.”
A newly developed aircraft, in the SH09’s case, incorporates the latest crashworthiness standards, including a crashworthy fuel system. It also includes a double-channel full authority digital engine control (FADEC) engine; it’s the first aircraft to have Honeywell’s HTS900-2 1D as standard equipment.
The single-engine aircraft provides benefits of a twin-engine: The cabin can accommodate a pilot and up to seven passengers, and it can cruise at 140 kts.
A drawback to a single-engine, however, is EASA rules. Right now, the emergency medical services (EMS) market in Europe is off limits for the SH09 because EASA rules prohibit single-engine EMS operations. The Kopter team thinks EASA is changing its mind about those rules.
Although Kopter won’t be flying its helicopter at any shows in the near future, it does plan to attend Heli-Expo in Las Vegas later this month with announcements. Löwenstein hinted the company may have something to share about pilot training.
“We want to be involved in [pilot training]. In Europe you need — and this is different from the U.S. — you need to ensure that the type rating of the pilot is given with the stamp of the company,” he said. “We will ensure that there is a pilot training system because we consider that this is a safety requirement. We must train the pilots in a very much controlled system … so we will team up with one of the biggies in the world for flight and mechanics training.”
Kopter’s nearer-term goals include:
Only time will tell for sure how different Kopter is from Marenco Swisshelicopter. But with a new name and a new logo that alludes to both rotor blades and the Swiss flag, Löwenstein and his team are confident.
“Our key factor is to be sticking to the mission of the people, delivering solutions for the operators,” he said. “For instance, what we are doing today is we are not only developing a helicopter. This helicopter will come to market with a full suite of mission equipment.”