Spain's ambitions to create a national helicopter industry have been boosted as Eurocopter adds assembly lines in the country

On 26 November, Eurocopter Espana delivered an EC135 to Spain's Emergency Military Unit. The helicopter - one of four ordered in 2006 for use in command and control of disaster operations - is claimed to be the first to have been fully assembled in Spain since 1955. (The two EC135s previously received were partly assembled in Germany.)

In a separate order placed in 2006, Spain's interior ministry ordered 48 EC135s for use in law enforcement. Delivery of these helicopters is also the responsibility of Eurocopter Espana, which came into operation in September 2000 as a Eurocopter subsidiary with EADS Casa participation. Eurocopter Espana took over from HESA, the first Eurocopter representative established in Spain, and became fully operational early in 2001, with a headquarters at Cuatro Vientos, south of Madrid.

In 2005, Eurocopter decided to create a new plant in the south-eastern Spanish city of Albacete, in the Castilla-La Mancha region. "Incentives for investment and R&D were also a decisive factor in the decision [to locate in Albacete]," says the company. A new plant in Spain had been provided for in the industrial plan agreed in 2003 when the country ordered 24 Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters in multirole HAD configuration.

 © La Mancha Press
The EC135 final assembly line at Albacete is now operating "at full speed"

It was envisaged that Albacete would generate revenue of €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) over 10 years, and that over the same period c60 million would be invested in tooling, equipment and installation.

Shortly after it confirmed Albacete as its new Spanish site, Eurocopter said the Spanish armed forces intended to acquire 45 NH90s as tactical transport helicopters. The €1.2 billion contract was signed in December 2005.


The NH90 added a third final assembly line to the plans for Albacete, which already provided for Tiger and EC135 lines. The 120,000m2 (1.29 million ft2) plant, inaugurated in March 2007, is responsible for manufacturing front fuselages for the army's NH90s, as well as their final assembly, which will start late in 2009. It operates final assembly lines for the Spanish multirole version of the Tiger and for the EC135, the latter operating in parallel with the line in Donauworth, Germany. For both the Tiger and the EC135, it manufactures composite tail booms.

Eurocopter estimates the Albacete plant is operating at 60-70% of capacity, in line with the scheduled industrial ramp-up. EC135 final assembly and component manufacture are already "at full speed" (with the latter running at 130 tail booms a year). Tiger final assembly and tail-boom manufacture are also under way, as is NH90 front fuselage manufacture.

In total 550 people are employed by Eurocopter Espana, around 420 of them at Albacete, with the latter figure set to rise to 700 by 2010. A workforce will be retained at Cuatro Vientos to staff corporate departments and the on-site maintenance hangar.

Staffing the Albacete plant has been a challenge, as the area lacks the aviation training resources of places such as Madrid, Seville and the Basque region. Eurocopter Espana is in talks with a local university with a view to assisting the creation of postgraduate aeronautical programmes. Meanwhile, it is transferring experienced staff from Madrid to Albacete.

"The main activity is moving south," says the company. "We are creating a national helicopter industry."

Source: Flight International