Eurocopter chief dismisses Ecureuil replacement plan

Rio de Janeiro
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Eurocopter chief executive Lutz Bertling has quickly moved to dampen suggestions that the company's Brazilian subsidiary is about to embark on a programme to design and build a replacement for its AS350 Ecureuil light helicopter.

Speaking at an event to inaugurate the EC725 final assembly line at the Helibras plant in Itajubá, Brazil, Bertling flatly denied that a Brazil-originated replacement for the Ecureuil was being contemplated, despite a comment to that effect from Brazil's trade minister Fernando Pimentel.

"We are selling 250 Ecureuils per year. We would be stupid to replace a product that's extremely successful," Bertling said.

Earlier at the same event, Pimentel praised Eurocopter's investment in the country and highlighted future projects. "[Helibras] will produce helicopters for the next 20 years [which will] replace the Ecureuil," he said.

Although Eurocopter's ultimate ambition is that Helibras will create an indigenous rotorcraft to be delivered in the mid-2020s, the company insists that no decision has been taken on what class of helicopter it would be.

"We don't tend to speak about development projects because that alerts our competitors," said Bertling. However, he added: "I guarantee it will not be a replacement for the Ecureuil. Whenever we speak with the market about what might follow the Ecureuil the only response is 'don't do it'."

No replacement programme will be launched "for the foreseeable time", he added.

Instead, Eurocopter is concentrating on increasing Helibras's design and engineering capabilities. It has recently attained Eurocopter authorised design organisation status - an important milestone in the build-up of its overall competencies, according to Bertling.

Although Helibras now possess "completely different competencies and capacity" to its earlier incarnation, "what's missing is the capability for the conception and design of a helicopter from scratch," Bertling said.

Any indigenous rotorcraft eventually produced at Itajubá "would be a normal Eurocopter product, designed and produced for the world market", he said - but production of the future type would not take place in parallel at either of Eurocopter's European plants. "Why have two lines? That's just inefficient," he said.