R&W interviewed Dr. Lutz Bertling, CEO, Eurocopter during Heli-Expo 2009. Following is an excerpt from that interview.
R&W: What’s going on at Eurocopter?
Bertling: The company is in good shape. [We] increased deliveries from 488 to 588 [aircraft]. Our fixed costs have not increased too much, which means, mainly, we achieved it through efficiency improvements. On average, we have reduced the lead times in our final assembly by 35 percent in 2008. This prepares us quite well for the times which we now have to face.
[The year] 2009 is going to be more a year of, I would say, of sterilization. It will not be a real crisis here for us. Most likely it will be a year where we will not grow, or just grow a bit. But over the past years we have always had 5-10 percent growth per year.
I strongly believe that the company will sail through these dire straits in quite good shape. We continue to invest in our future. We increased our research and development budget for innovations for the future. I believe that short-to-midterm, difficult economic environments should not change your long-term objectives. And therefore, we still are careful of what we need to do for 2015 and 2020. So, of course, we need to improve efficiency more. Of course, we have to keep a careful look at our cash position. In particular, we want to continue to invest, even in these more difficult times. But I’m quite confident.
R&W: The EC120 seems to be less popular than the other aircraft....
Bertling: Do you believe so?
R&W: It seems that in the U.S. we don’t see quite as many EC120s as we do the AS350s, EC145s and EC135s.
Bertling: For police and community-based EMS, the AStar [AS350] clearly is the preferred aircraft. The 120; we have it a bit as an entry product for the guys coming from piston engine helicopters. So, what is the target market for the EC120? It’s first of all, training, then its typical jobs, like border protection and use as a reconnaissance aircraft. And it’s the helicopter for the private pilot who jumps from a piston helicopter to a turbine engine helicopter.
And here, in this last part, the U.S. market is more in the Schweizer/Robinson and so on. So, it’s less popular for these pilots in the U.S. to fly turbine engine helicopters. They are flying more piston engine helicopters, as I said, Schweizers and Robinsons and so on. It’s a bit different in other parts of the world. Australia, for example, you see a lot of 120s which are owned by individual people who have their own helicopters. I would not see it as less successful. The single thing that cannibalizes [the EC120] a bit is the success of the AStar. In the U.S., people tend to go directly to the AStar. Take Customs and Border Protection. They took a lot of 120s and they flew the AStar as well. And after a certain while, they transformed their contract from a 120 contract to an AStar contract. I don’t see this as a weakness of the 120. I see it more as the strength of the AStar in the U.S. market. People who are originally interested in the 120 very often end up with an AStar.
R&W: How are EC120s doing elsewhere in the world?
Bertling: In 120s were doing at the moment, per year, 90 to 100.
R&W: And what about the AS350 AStar?
Bertling: AStars, were doing roughly 275. It might be 10 more or 10 less.
R&W: When you were high school age, what did you want to do with your life?
Bertling: I ended my school with quite remarkable marks. Nevertheless, I was really disappointed with the whole school system. So, the first thing I did after high school was I lived 48 weeks in a boat and sailed across the North Atlantic three times, across the South Atlantic, and went down to Australia. It was a great experience, and I needed the time to think about what to do. I was 19. I never thought about aerospace. I was more focused on automotive, and I never ended in automotive. A lot of industries in Germany were companies like BMW and Diemler, Mercedes Benz, and so on. A lot of people wanted to go there. Most people in the aerospace world, and particularly in the helicopter world, they are not only in their job to make money. There’s emotion, there’s passion, It’s a job I like very much.