Building on more than 20 years as a leading helicopter manufacturer, the company marked key milestones in 2013 and prepared for the latest chapter in its history: as Airbus Helicopters.
2013 saw important achievements for the company, including new developments and ongoing innovation for its latest products, expansion around the world, as well as the sustained commitment to providing customers with close service and support.
With its new name, Airbus Helicopters will carry on these successes and shape its future along with its Airbus Group parent company – committed to the Group’s core values of excellence in the aviation industry, driven by innovative technical capabilities and building off Airbus’ globally recognized name.
As part of this focus on innovation, Airbus Helicopters’ newest programs reached important successes this year. The company’s optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) demonstration program was validated in 2013, revealed with an unmanned presentation flight at Istres, France’s French Air Force Base. Utilizing a pre-programed, four-dimensional flight plan uploaded to the helicopter, an EC145 performed an automatic takeoff and landing, and deployed a load from an external sling, during the pilotless operation, which represented a typical observation mission.
The X3 hybrid helicopter opened new frontiers in aviation as well this summer. The aircraft – which combines the speed capabilities of a turbo-prop airplane with the full-flight properties of a helicopter – registered an unofficial speed record of 255 knots during level flight over Southern France on June 7.
“Airbus Helicopters will continue setting the standard on future helicopter missions, offering our customers new levels of performance in terms of speed, range and mission capabilities at competitive costs,” said Airbus Helicopters President and CEO Guillaume Faury. “We are committed to the ongoing evolution of our entire product line by applying innovative technologies to meet our operators’ requirements.”
As part of its constant upgrades, Airbus Helicopters launched the EC135 T3/P3 members of its enhanced helicopter family during the Heli-Expo 2013 industry show in Las Vegas.
These updated versions of Airbus Helicopters popular light, multipurpose twin-engine rotorcraft include two enhanced engine options: Turbomeca’s Arrius 2B2 “Plus” for the EC135 T3; and Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PWC 206B3 for the EC135 P3. In addition, these improved-performance helicopters include a 10-cm. increased length for the main rotor blades, new and optimized software in the FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Controls), enhanced air intakes with inlet barrier filters, as well as advanced cockpit avionics.
Meanwhile, other new products took key steps forward this year, including the EC175’s significant progress towards its planned certification and delivery startup in 2014.
This next generation of the new Branded Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft set new standards in the medium-sized twin engine market segment, reaching two time-to-climb records (to altitudes of 3,000 and 6,000 meters), which further validated this rotorcraft’s performance for a variety of operations.
The Group expanded this aircraft’s range of missions by formally unveiling the rotorcraft’s Executive and VIP versions at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) in Switzerland. Additionally, the VIP configuration received its first two orders, which were announced during September’s U.K. Helitech International exposition in London.
These top-of-the-line products feature three different styles for the VIP version – drawing inspiration from modern sports cars, penthouse interiors or the grand villas of Europe – and an Executive variant, which incorporates a modern and stylish design with durable materials.
The No. 1 production EC175 also became a true world traveler in 2013, making demonstration tours around the globe to exhibit its capabilities to customers. The EC175’s U.S. tour concluded in March, validating the helicopter’s performance, advanced avionics, handling qualities and operational safety for the U.S. oil and gas industry from locations along the country’s Gulf Coast, in addition to its stop in Las Vegas for display at Heli-Expo 2013.
This next-generation rotorcraft continued its global travels later in 2013, this time visiting Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam in December for operators in the region’s oil and gas, VIP, corporate, charter, military and law enforcement segments. In addition to its oil and gas configuration, the EC175’s executive and VIP layouts were also highlighted with a full-scale mock-up displayed in Kuala Lumpur.
Joining the EC175 for the Thailand tour and Malaysia stopover – which also included a two-day oil and gas symposium in Kuala Lumpur – was the evolved EC145 T2 twin-engine aircraft, in its corporate configuration. The company’s 2013 global demonstrations further underscored its strategy of remaining in close proximity to its worldwide customer base.
In keeping with this global theme, 2013 also featured the expansion of Airbus Helicopters’ industrial footprint around the world and in Europe.
The company’s North American presence will be bolstered following February’s inauguration of a new 12,000 square-meter facility in Querétaro, Mexico, which is to produce high-technology structural metallic components.
In the United States, the company announced it will upgrade its American subsidiary’s Columbus, Mississippi plant to include a final assembly and test site for the AS350 – which is the U.S. market’s top-selling civil helicopter. These new capabilities are in addition to the facility’s ongoing UH-72A Lakota aircraft production and retrofit activities for the U.S. Army, other federal agencies and foreign military customers.
Meanwhile, Airbus Helicopters’ growth continued at its industrial bases in Europe, achieving key production milestones in 2013, and expanding into new facilities. During June’s 2013 Paris Air Show, the company broke ground on a new Paris-Le Bourget industrial site, which is to produce helicopter blades and conduct research on composite materials from 2015.
In Spain, the Tiger combat helicopter program reached an important landmark with July’s maiden flight of the initial Tiger HAD/E variant assembled at the company’s Spanish facilities in Albacete. This followed other significant successes in Europe, including the first flight of the No. 1 Spanish-assembled NH90 GSPA in January, as well as April’s initial delivery of the Tiger HAD/F attack configuration version helicopter to the French DGA procurement agency.
Customers around the world benefited from the training support offered by the company. The company’s Helisim consortium with Thales and Défence Conseil International marked the 100,000th hour of training in its simulators – which cover a full range of Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft – underscoring its key mission that directly contributes to safety.