By Woodrow Bellamy III | March 2, 2018
Coming off a year in which Airbus Helicopters won 70% of available civilian helicopter orders in North America, and fresh off the news of Leonardo dropping its lawsuit, Chris Emerson, president and head of the North American division of Airbus Helicopters is hoping to bring on the competition.
“The best news is Lakota,” said Emerson, referencing Leonardo’s recent decision not to drop any further legal action regarding the sole-source award of trainer helicopters to the U.S. Army. Now, with no further legal action to face, Emerson said that the previous decision he made to continue production on the UH-72 has paid off, despite the risk involved with the ongoing litigation that prevented the Army from single-sourcing the Lakota replacement to Airbus.
“No matter when we sign that contract, they will get the first aircraft in May of this year. It will be the quickest ever turnaround time from contract signature to first delivery,” he said.
There’s more than Lakota that's exciting for Emerson, and he credits his positive outlook to the changes he’s made behind the scenes at the Airbus Helicopters division in recent years.
For example, Airbus Helicopters employees are now working Monday through Friday, instead of taking Fridays off as was the previous policy. Emerson said this was a conscious decision he made knowing that his customers are flying seven days a week and cannot be in aircraft-on-ground situations with no one to talk to on a Friday.
Airbus now has a 24/7 dedicated response team with the ability to issue engineering change authorizations. There is also a type certificate delegation for every aircraft, and Emerson believes these changes have helped Airbus in the U.S. and Canada, where it has delivered a combined 55 commercially operated helicopters across the business, law enforcement and air medical segments. He has been especially impressed with the increase in demand for private business aviation-operated helicopters, where he expects to see continued growth into the near future.
The Airbus executive is encouraged by its performance in North America last year, as well as in the overall increase in orders and deliveries of turbine and piston-powered rotorcraft in 2017.
However he is “cautiously optimistic.” He believes the only way the market for orders of new commercially operated turbine-powered rotorcraft will truly rebound globally will be through increased competition.
“After winning 70% of the market share in bookings last year, I’m changing my story,” said Emerson. “I need Bell to step up and give me something to compete with. The same can be said for Leonardo. Give me some competition. That’s how we come out of this industry slump. Let’s stop suing each other and get out there and start competing with each other."
Emerson’s call for competition came a day after receiving an order from Metro Aviation for 25 air medical-configured EC145es, which he said will be produced at the Airbus manufacturing facility in Columbus, Mississippi.
There are also major future possibilities for the H160 in the North American market. The medium-twin engine helicopter made its Heli-Expo debut in 2018. Airbus expects to complete the first delivery of the H160 in 2019. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 12,566 pounds and a 450 nautical-mile range and has been positioned by Airbus as a multi-mission rotorcraft capable of serving many different missions.
Emerson believes there could be a major opportunity for the H160 in the northeastern region of the U.S.
“There are 100 [Sikorsky] S-76s ready to be replaced today, most of them operating in the northeast. What’s key is you have to find the right operator who is that trendsetter who opens the door that all the other operators are watching,” said Emerson.
While the H160 is on track to enter service in 2019, Emerson said he does have eyes on the future, especially with collaboration with Silicon Valley-based A³ ("A-cubed"), which recently completed the first flight of its electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft, the Vahana.
Emerson said while Airbus Helicopters — like most traditional aviation OEMs — uses proven technology that is in demand for a specific marketplace, A³ helps change that landscape by using technology to influence demand.
Airbus Helicopters considers the future possibilities of EVTOL so serious that Emerson used Heli-Expo as a platform to announce a partnership with Blade. The company describes itself as the “largest arranger of helicopter flights for civilian travel" in the U.S., with a total of seven dedicated lounges and 22 core routes across seven states.
The partnership is aimed at enabling Airbus to study trends within the urban air transportation market. The service's launch city of Dallas would include Blade working together with Airbus Ride, an events-based helicopter shuttle service, according to a discussion Emerson held with reporters at Heli-Expo Thursday.
As far as what the future eVTOL aircraft and urban air transportation model will look like, Emerson is open to many different possibilities.
“I use the word disposable. It’s never been used before in this industry," he said. "We traditionally design products for 30 to 40 years. Can you imagine how you certify and the rules change if you only fly for 1,000 hours?”