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Airbus Helicopters delays launch of X6 programme

Airbus Helicopters is pushing back the launch of its X6 heavy helicopter programme, citing continued market uncertainty and the inability of suppliers to deliver "disruptive technologies" at present.

Envisaged as a replacement for the current 11t-class H225 Super Puma, the airframer began a concept study phase for the X6 in 2015 which was expected to last around two years. At the time, service entry was foreseen around 2022-2023.

But speaking on a 22 January briefing on its 2017 orders and deliveries, Guillaume Faury, the airframer's outgoing chief executive, said that since the study phase began, the offshore oil and gas segment in particular has collapsed.

Although the military and parapublic markets for the H225 have stayed strong, accounting for all of the 44 net orders for the type in 2017, there is considerable future uncertainty.

"We have seen an evolution in the structure of the market and we need to take that into account," says Faury. At present, the manufacturer is unable to develop a "solid and balanced business case" for the programme.

In addition, the concept studies have shown "a lack of maturity from the supply chain to deliver disruptive technologies as envisaged", he says.

"Until we find those appropriate solutions and market certainty, we will not launch a fully fledged programme.

"It is not gone but it is likely to become something quite different to what we launched."

Faury declines to detail the technologies under consideration, but says "more time and maturity" is required. When the concept study phase was launched, the airframer said the X6 wold feature fly-by-wire controls and next-generation engines.

Although in 2017 the European Commission approved French and German refundable launch aid totalling €377 million ($461 million) for the X6 programme, Faury says that money has yet to be allocated.

If the airframer eventually launches the X6, that funding could be used as planned, although if significant changes to the design are made "then we would have to look again" at those state investments, he says.

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