Despite dominating the civil market, Eurocopter is not yet the worldwide benchmark for the helicopter industry, says chief executive Fabrice Bregier. "We have to grow in defence, win US business and achieve the highest level of customer support," he says. "We will be the benchmark in one to two years."

Eurocopter expected to account for more than half the total civil turbine helicopter deliveries last year, up from 45% in 2003.

The civil and parapublic market accounted for 53% of the company's €2.78 billion ($3.61 billion) in revenues and 49% of its €3.24 billion in orders last year. That Eurocopter's defence revenues will increase is inevitable, as 90% of its order backlog is military - mainly for the Tiger attack and NH90 combat helicopters. But much of the EADS subsidiary's focus is on protecting and, if possible, expanding its civil market share.

"We need to improve customer support. It is not Eurocopter's strongest point," says Bregier, who is a potential candidate to replace Noel Forgeard as Airbus chief executive. The company made progress last year in aircraft quality, delivery lead times and spare parts availability. Its three logistics hubs, in Dallas, Hong Kong and Paris, will be interconnected this year, repair and overhaul cycles shortened, technician training improved and supplier relationships strengthened.

Eurocopter is also looking for partnerships to reduce its costs and expand its product range. "We will find ways to outsource more production and share development costs with other companies worldwide," says Bregier.

The company hopes to conclude an agreement with China this year to launch co-development of a 6-7t medium helicopter to be available in 2010 to compete with the Bell/Agusta Aerospace AB139.

Assembly of the EC120 light helicopter in China began last year, and Eurocopter plans to open a Chinese subsidiary "in the near future". The company already has 16 subsidiaries wordwide, which together booked orders worth more than €1 billion last year. These include 101 helicopters sold by American Eurocopter, which last year opened a new plant in Columbus, Mississippi to assemble EC120s and AS350s for the US market.

"We need to do more outsourcing for natural dollar hedging," says Bregier. "We need to speed up the move to dollar countries, like the Mississippi plant, and to create value and jobs in countries where we want to sell aircraft."

EADS plans to set up a Russian subsidiary this year, but is not ready to form industrial partnerships, as it has in China, because of the legal issues like those that forced it to withdraw from the Euromil consortium developing the Mi-38. "Co-operation at an industrial level will have to wait," he says.


Source: Flight International