Andreas Löwenstein, CEO of what was Marenco Swisshelicopter, addressed a crowd Feb. 1 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.” The name was too long, it said. People from some countries found it difficult to pronounce. Thus, the 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 that the SKYe SH09 (the single-engine helicopter that kept its name) will be certificated by EASA next year, aimed for the first quarter.
In 2011, the company was hoping to have certification activities completed by 2015 or 2016. But then 2016 came, and what was then Marenco readjusted its aim for certification in 2017. Then it was March 2017, and newly appointed Löwenstein, who took over after CEO Martin Stucki left, readjusted aim once again for a 2018 certification.
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.
In 10 years, Löwenstein 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 him. The SH09 is not concerned with the oil and gas segment, Löwenstein said. The helicopter industry is also a cycle, he continued.
“’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.”
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 due to EASA single-engine operations rules. The Kopter team thinks EASA could be reconsidering those contraints.
Kopter’s SH09 will be on display at its booth (N4615).