Avicopter ponders alternative engine following EC175 first flight

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Chinese state-owned helicopter manufacturer Avicopter is considering the launch of a new engine programme for the EC175/Z15 medium twin that it is developing jointly with Eurocopter.

Eurocopter chief executive Lutz Bertling says that while Eurocopter had no plans to equip the EC175 with any engine other than the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67AE, the Chinese partner was understood to be in talks with Turbomeca about a possible alternative powerplant for the helicopter (which it has brand-named the Z15). However, no agreement had yet been reached, he says.

Bertling was speaking at a briefing that followed a trial flight of the 7t, 16-passenger type at Eurocopter's Marignane, France headquarters on 17 December,

 ec175-ff-445
 © Eurocopter

Eurocopter expects a minimum of 800 orders over a 20-year period for the EC175. The helicopter completed its first flight on 4 December, meeting a target to fly by the end 2009 that was established at the outset of four-year-old programme.

Letters of intent to order 114 units of the type have been received by Eurocopter. Bertling says the manufacturer "could have signed many more", but has elected to focus on converting intentions to firm contracts, before assessing availability of production slots.

Eurocopter has identified the offshore oil and gas market as a prime target for the EC175. The type is also being pitched for use in search and rescue, corporate/VIP, and medical missions.

Bertling praises P&WC for its "tremendous extra effort" to ensure that a threat to the EC175's schedule encountered at the beginning of 2009 did not delay the first flight. During "tough negotiations" the engine manufacturer had "heard the message - and they delivered", Bertling says.

The Eurocopter chief expects total turnover and deliveries for 2009 to be "more or less stable" compared with 2008. It is anticipated that there will be a "significant impact" from the downturn on units ordered, but not on total order value, as demand has shifted from light helicopters toward bigger types.

With the first flight complete, the next step in the EC175 programme is to gain certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency. First delivery is scheduled for December 2012. Bertling estimates the programme cost at €600 million ($860.5 million) and expects it to create 2,000 jobs (directly and indirectly).

Avicopter has signed a contract to deliver to Eurocopter the fuselage of "prototype 3" of the EC175, chairman Li Fangyong has disclosed. Prototype 1 is deployed in Eurocopter's flight-test programme, while prototype 2 has been retained by the Chinese manufacturer. Prototype 3 is due to fly by the end of 2010.

Fangyong is hopeful that the EC175/Z15 programme will lead to further co-operation between China and Europe.