Airbus Helicopters has confirmed that Belgian operator Noordzee Helicopters Vlaanderen (NHV) will be the first customer to receive the super-medium EC175 on 11 December.
NHV is one of three launch customers for the delayed EC175. The other two – Héli-Union and UTair – are due to receive their first aircraft this year, but the airframer has yet to detail the delivery schedule.
Certification of the 7.5t rotorcraft was originally scheduled for late 2012, with first delivery due in September 2013.
However, two programme delays meant Airbus Helicopters only obtained European Aviation Safety Agency approval for the type in January this year.
Commencing deliveries of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-powered helicopter is vital for Airbus Helicopters as it looks to bolster the EC175’s modest backlog. This stands at just 52 units according to Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database.
So far in 2014 the airframer has taken just eight orders - six alone from NHV - for the EC175, only marginally ahead of the five booked last year. Operators are thought to be holding fire from further commitments until in-service performance data is available.
The challenge is doubly important for the manufacturer as it battles a weaker than anticipated commercial market this year.
Speaking on a third-quarter earnings call last week, Harald Wilhelm, chief financial officer of parent company Airbus Group, said Europe and the US in particular had shown “a significant reduction in overall demand” for commercial rotorcraft.
Net order intake for the nine-month period was 208 helicopters, against 276 in the same period a year earlier, a fall of over 24%. Deliveries also fell by 5.4% to 295 units.
Despite the softer commercial environment, revenue grew by 3% to €4.2 billion ($5.25 billion) and earnings before interest and tax climbed 4.1% to €241 million.
Wilhelm says the strong performance came thanks to a mixture of tight cash control and a better mix of deliveries which included higher numbers of more expensive types such as the EC225 and NH Industries NH90 military helicopter, in which Airbus Helicopters has majority stake.
He praises the decisions taken by Airbus Helicopters chief executive Guillaume Faury to “prepare” the business for the market downturn “and whenever [the market] picks up they are very well positioned cost-wise and product-wise”, he says.