Aerospace, by nature, is an industry of extremes. Costs are huge, technical and financial risks severe. Timescales are long, business cycles fierce. Political winds can be fair or very foul.

Rotorcraft makers feel these forces particularly acutely. Compounding their financial pressures are relatively low volumes and a huge diversity of customer requirements, while the inherent dangers of rotary-wing flight put a premium on faith in the machines, a faith that is urgent: operators buy helicopters because no other machines can do the jobs they do.

So today, in what amounts to a long-running economic depression for the vertical-lift industry, what is the corporate priority? Perhaps counter-intuitively, it is innovation. Facing their own economic uncertainties, customers will only buy new machines or upgrade old ones if they absolutely must, or if doing so buys them a worthwhile – that is, cost-effective – performance advantage. And there is plenty of competition, so it is a buyer’s market where sellers absolutely must have something compelling to offer.

A few years ago, that might have been speed, but right now, speed looks expensive. Lower operating costs are always attractive, of course, but the breakthrough that really matters is safety. Any company whose engineers can truly improve helicopter accident figures is on to a winner.

Source: Flight International