Commercial

New Safran Helicopter Engines CEO Says Urban Mobility Focus is on Hybrid, not Full Electric

By S.L. Fuller | March 1, 2018

Safran Aneto engine

Safran Aneto engine. Photo courtesy of Safran

Franck Saudo feels as though he is becoming the CEO of Safran Helicopter Engines at a relatively good time. He is set to officially start his new position April 2, as current CEO Bruno Even is set to take up his new post as CEO of Airbus Helicopters April 1.

“I arrive at the point in time where we see a slow recovery in the market after probably the worst crisis in the past 30 years that we went through,” Saudo said Tuesday at a Heli-Expo press briefing in Las Vegas. Before this new position, he has been serving as CEO of Safran Transmission Systems.

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Resiliency, he said, has allowed Safran to make it out of the downturn. The company was able to adapt “at the speed of light from the start of the crisis,” and did so between 2014 and 2017, Saudo said. Now comes the recovery period, which Safran is well positioned for. The company has multiple projects worldwide, including the certification of the Arriel 3C and Arriel 2H for the Aviation Industry Corp. of China's AC352 and AC312E respectively, this year.

Franck Saudo will become Safran Helicopter Engines' new CEO April 2. Photo courtesy of Safran.

Franck Saudo will become Safran Helicopter Engines' new CEO April 2. Photo courtesy of Safran.

The new CEO attributed that to two strategic elements: working to serve all manufacturers and prioritizing the customer. Enabling those two elements is Safran’s consistent investments.

“The reason why it was so important to be resilient at the end of this crisis was to make sure that we would be able to keep investing. And we kept doing so all along the crisis,” Saudo said. “When you look at the amount we invest, it’s 15% of our revenue. And it’s been so all along the crisis and it is still so today.”

In terms of the amount of investment allocated across Safran’s areas of interests, Saudo said product development is given the most, with industrial investments next and digital services coming in third.

Those investments have turned into 3-D printing (Saudo said Safran was one of the first aerospace companies to use that method for serial parts), the new Aneto family of engines that will start to be delivered this year (which can be found on the Leonardo AW189K which is due for certification next year and the Airbus Helicopters H160), and the series of digital services Safran recently rolled out:

  • e-Spares:
    • A new addition to Safran’s EngineLife Customer Portal helps users identify and select the right spare parts and tools. Prices are instantly displayed, and availability statuses are calculated in real time so that an order can be placed immediately, 24/7. Air Methods placed the first official online order during Heli-Expo. The tool is set to be rolled out gradually throughout the year, as will new features.
  • New Premium Health Monitoring contracts:
    • ÖAMTC (Österreichischer Automobil-Motorrad- und Touring Club) has become one of the first major customers to sign a Premium Health Monitoring contract. ÖAMTC uses the Arrius 2B2 to power its fleet of Airbus H135s.
    • HeliDax also signed up for the Premium version of the service. Its package integrates a new feature allowing automatic engine power check. The French company operates a fleet of 36 Airbus H120s powered by Arrius 2F.

Safran is also taking part in the urban air mobility movement. Should these futuristic VTOL aircraft be all electric, as Uber insists they must be, the powerplant will be of the utmost importance.

“We believe at Safran Helicopter Engines that there will be a revolution in mobility in the decades coming. And we see it through VTOLs and we want definitely to be part of that story,” Saudo said. “It will involve hybrid architectures involving gas turbines mixed with electrical power generation systems.”

That’s right: Safran confidently says the most immediate future of urban air taxis will not be fully electric.

“We do not see full electrical architecture for application for platforms flying beyond 30 minutes and carrying more than 100 kg within the next two decades because of battery capacity,” said Bruno Bellanger, EVP of programs at Safran Helicopter Engines.

Although the company could not give specifics at this time, Safran is actively engaging in discussions with these futuristic aircraft original equipment manufacturers (OEM). The work has started, though, to create the engines of the future. An example of that is Aneto.

This week, it was announced that Airbus Helicopters chose to power its Racer (an acronym for “Rapid and Cost-Efficient Rotorcraft”) with twin Aneto-1X engines. That high-speed demonstrator could make its first flight in 2020. The engines feature the Power Pack Eco Mode configuration, which was developed in partnership with Safran Electrical & Power through a study funded by France’s civil aviation authority. When in cruise, the pilot can “pause” one engine to make it idle. And if need be, the idling engine can be rapidly and automatically restored to full power using an electric motor. This Eco Mode can generate some 15% in fuel savings and give greater mission range, Safran said.

Saudo’s sentiments, so far, align with the words of his predecessor. Although Safran is forging ahead to the future — digitization and the aircraft of tomorrow — there are some things at Safran that are set to remain unchanged. Emphasis on resilience and trust in its products have been consistent messages from one CEO to another.

“The main lesson is that we have been resilient,” Even told R&WI ahead of Heli-Expo 2017. “We have all seen that in 2016 the market continued to go down – by some estimates negative 30% in terms of orders in the last two years for the global helicopter market. The reason why we stabilized our production is mainly due to the resilience of the light and medium helicopter market, where we have a strong position with the Arriel and the Arrius engines.”

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