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Airbus Helicopters rules out short-term civil product launch

Airbus Helicopters has ruled out the launch of any new civil rotorcraft in the short-term thanks to continued market weakness.

"We do not see a need for a new helicopter in the next two to three years," said chief executive Bruno Even, speaking in Marginane on 18 January.

Although the manufacturer delivered a robust performance last year, Even says the market for commercial helicopters continues to be soft.

"2018 was at a low point, but a stabilised one, particularly for the civil market," he says, and rules out a "major recovery" until at least 2020.

Even points to his predecessor Guillaume Faury's decision last year to halt work on the X6 programme, which would have delivered a new 12-13t helicopter in the mid-2020s.

Airbus Helicopters launched the concept development phase for the X6 in 2015 as it sought to "test the market" for the new helicopter, but suspended the programme in early 2018 citing both sales prospects and fears over the readiness of game-changing technologies.

"The conclusions were not positive when it came to the maturity of technology, and, more than that, when it came to the need from the market for a new helicopter in this range," he says.

Even says he is convinced that the capability of airframer's existing heavy platforms – the H215 and H225, as well as the NH90 military rotorcraft produced by the NH Industries joint venture – means there is "no need to launch a completely new helicopter that the X6 could have been".

Instead, the company will focus on ensuring a smooth service entry next year for its medium-twin H160, delivering upgrades to its existing models, and exploring "new business opportunities" made possible through innovations such as its electric-powered CityAirbus programme.

However, Even cautions that it will not deliver "innovation for innovation's sake", and any new technology should "bring value" to its customers.

Even stresses that he was satisfied with the 15 orders booked for the H160 last year, which was "in line" with plan.

"The target for the first year [of sales] was to get 15 bookings and that's where we are."

Certification for the H160 is on track for late 2019 and service entry will follow with launch customer Babcock in 2020. "I am really positive about the future prospects of this helicopter," Even says.

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