Julian Moxon/PARIS

Eurocopter is seeking to develop a 15/20-seat civil tilt-rotor and says that it is now looking for European partners to invest in the project.

The Franco/German company says that while the eight/nine-seat Bell BA609 civil tiltrotor "presents no direct competition in the short term", there is a need for a larger aircraft more suitable for longer range operations. It adds the condition, however, that such a machine "-must demonstrate viable economics and good environmental behaviour".

The company says that a research programme over four or five years is needed to look at technologies "-which do not exist today" for such a machine. The work would follow the European Commission-sponsored Eurofar tiltrotor studies already carried out by a group of European companies, but would, says Eurocopter, be directed more at a specific product once its feasibility is established.

On funding, Eurocopter president Patrick Gavin says: "We're in a phase of elaboration and discussion." At least some funding is likely from the EC's forthcoming Fifth Framework aerospace research and technology programme, which begins in 1999, and which foresees a near-doubling of aerospace funding. Gavin virtually ruled out from the line-up of potential industry partners rival European helicopter manufacturers Agusta and Westland.

Agusta's risk-sharing co-operation agreement with Bell on the BA609, announced at the Farnborough air show in September, and the discussions between Agusta and Westland on a potential merger, appear to have ended any hope of co-operation. "They clearly do not want to play the European game," he says. "So we will look for other partners."

Meanwhile, Gavin, who took over the presidency of Eurocopter in August, says that while sales in 1998 will be "higher" than last year's figure of Fr10.2 billion ($1.7 billion), operating margins will still not reach the desired 5% return on sales. Orders for the Tiger anti-tank helicopter and NH-90 utility helicopter, both of which are expected early next year, will result in sales increasing by 40% by 2003. Exports will then fall to around 65%, he said, against 85% today.

Source: Flight International