The H160 is on a demo tour across the U.S. Photo by Thierry Rostang, courtesy of Airbus Helicopters
MARIGNANE, France — Two years after production begins, Airbus Helicopters plans to build 30 H160s a year and is prepared to reach a rate of 50 per year once the aircraft enters service with the French military.
Having booked 15 aircraft in 2018, Airbus is planning to ramp up its H160 production rate until the company achieves that 30-per-year rate around 2022, said Bernard Fujarski, the Airbus senior vice president of the H160 program.
“We are starting relatively low speed with significant intervals between the first helicopters,” Fujarski told a few journalists during a visit to Airbus Helicopters Headquarters in Marignane, France. Eventually, the company would like to deliver an H160 40 weeks after an order is placed, but the lead time is much longer now, though booking slots are still available annually, he said.
So far, orders are for transport, VIP and EMS configurations. None of the standing orders are for offshore oil and gas operations, though Airbus officials are optimistic that market will embrace the H160 eventually.
The company is planning on EASA certification of the H160 late this year, with FAA certification to follow about six months later. Airbus already has begun certification flights with the FAA and has performed more than 200 customers demonstration flights in the U.S.
Following FAA certification, Airbus plans on going after permission to fly in Brazil, Canada and Japan.
A second pre-serial production aircraft, called PS2, flew for the first time in December and “maturity of the system is progressing well,” he said. Ground test on that aircraft took about four weeks, about half the time it took to get PS1 into the air. A third pre-serial aircraft is in production.
So far, existing H160s have racked up 1,100 flight hours, Fujarski said. The flight test campaign necessary for EASA certification should be completed at about 1,500 hours, he said.
First delivery is scheduled for mid-2020 to launch customer Babcock, which still has the option to configure its aircraft as either an EMS or for offshore oil-and-gas operations, Fujarski said.
EMS has picked up some of the slack left by the offshore market because it was not initially targeted as a market for the H160, which is larger than most in-service EMS rotorcraft.
In the oil-and-gas market, Airbus is positioning the H160 as a replacement for in-service Sikorsky S-76s and for lower-end missions of the Leonardo AW139, Fujarski said.
“If you look at the fleet worldwide being operated by customers in that segment, it’s significant,” he said.
The French military is buying a militarized version of the H160, called the H160M, as a tri-service — army, navy, air force — replacement for the all of the country’s military helicopters except for the NH90, the EC725 Caracal and Tiger attack helicopter, also made by Airbus.
The program, which goes by the French acronym HIL, carries a requirement of nearly 200 aircraft. There are no immediate plans to
“It’s a significant program that addresses a lot of needs, a lot of missions,” Fujarski said. “I think there are 15 missions using the same basic configuration. … For us it will be a faster way to develop our catalogue of options for configurations for the export market.”
Production on that program is not projected to start until at least 2027, Fujarski said. Plans are to purchase a quantity of base-configuration H160s and configure them for service-specific missions with aftermarket retrofit kits.
“Until 2027, 2028, we will have to live with the existing civilian market,” he said.