Development activities on the new Airbus Helicopters X4 programme appear to be accelerating ahead of formal launch of the medium-class rotorcraft in March 2015.

Speaking at an Airbus Group investor presentation on 10 December, the airframer’s chief executive Guillaume Faury confirmed that it had “powered on” the first prototype a few days earlier.

This suggests the helicopter, which will replace the long-running AS365 Dauphin and EC155, is more advanced than many had previously realised.

First flight is scheduled for late next year, with service entry following in 2017. Airbus Helicopters is “heavily working on this new product”, says Faury.

Although the manufacturer has revealed little detail about the new helicopter, carbonfibre cockpit structures for the X4 were visible to journalists visiting its Donauwörth manufacturing plant in Germany in July, suggesting its external shape has been defined. Fuselage components were delivered to the Systemhaus research facility at the same site during the summer.

Development of the X4, alongside the arrival of the new EC175, will mean that the airframer will “reinvest completely the segment of medium and light heavies with brand new products”, says Faury.

In addition, another supplier has been added to the programme with the announcement that Italy’s Avio Aero will supply accessory gearboxes for the X4 on a 25-year contract worth more than $250 million.

The X4, to be powered by either Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210 or new Turbomeca Arrano 1A engines, will be officially unveiled on 3 March 2015 at the Heli-Expo show in Orlando.