Although better known for cutting-edge innovation in its new helicopters, Eurocopter hopes that by taking a different approach to one of its latest programmes it is gaining acceptance in a new market at the bottom end of the price segment.
Unveiled last November, the AS332 C1e takes the long-standing Super Puma medium-twin and upgrades it with new avionics, including a four-axis autopilot, taken from its EC225 sibling.
However, unlike the rest of its range the AS332 C1e is not offered as a bespoke platform, explains Fabrice Arfi, vice-president for business development, allowing Eurocopter to lower its prices and cut lead times.
The basic configuration has also enabled Eurocopter to shed its image as being too "high-cost" for the market for utility helicopters serving big non-governmental organisations such as the UN and World Food Programme, says Arfi. Operators have already begun bidding with the type for contracts with the NGOs, says Arfi.
It has secured its first contract, for two units with two options, with Starlite Aviation Group, which is based in Ireland and South Africa, and Arfi expects further orders in the coming months. Around 20 sales campaigns are ongoing, he says. "If we are successful with even half of what we have bid for, it is an indication of very strong attraction for this utility segment," he says.
Eurocopter has taken a "very proven platform" and improved it with a new cockpit to "remove the issues of obsolescence" to create an "extremely high performance workhorse", he says. Certification is scheduled for later in 2013.
It will compete against the in-service fleet of Mil Mi-8 and Mi-17s, and the modernised Mi-171A2 for new sales. However, Arfi says the higher speed and lower fuel consumption, allied to the updated avionics offered by the new Super Puma variant will see it grab market share. "We offer lower operating costs in the long run, which is really the key to the new business model," he says.
The airframer is targeting a total market of 800 aircraft over a 10-year period and it forecasts it can take a minimum 10% share. The updated aircraft will allow it to "penetrate a market where we have not penetrated before", says Arfi.
Additionally, the airframer is hopeful the C1e can make inroads into the market for the resupply of US Navy vessels. The service recently issued a request for proposal for a civilian contractor to provide two aircraft and crews to conduct resupply missions for its fifth and seventh fleets and Arfi is confident the variant meets the navy's specifications, particularly its 4.5t sling payload.