Adams: Kopter with a K
Kan an upstart kompany krack the krowded light helo market?
Brand reputation begins with the company name, and the mouthful that was Marenco Swisshelicopter (aka MSH) was too long. It was also too associated with company founder Martin Stucki — the name Marenco is derived from Martin Engineering and Consulting — who started the venture in 2007 in his family’s farmhouse.
The new name is the übersimple Kopter. With a K. The K is supposed to evoke the company’s Suisse Deutsch home base near Zurich, representing “solidity, dependability.”
The new logo – the cross of the Swiss flag stylized as four rotor blades – was developed by Winkreative, a Swiss-headquartered branding specialist that has done work for Air Canada, Porter Airlines and Bombardier. “We conceived the name Kopter for its strong, single-minded confidence and ownability,” they said.
Andreas Löwenstein, Kopter’s CEO, likens the $3.5-million SHO9 single-engine rotorcraft that is currently in development to “a flying Swiss pocket knife.”
Targeted at the medical, rescue, law enforcement and tourist sightseeing markets (up to eight passengers), the SHO9’s 2,650 to 2,800-kilogram takeoff weight design features a composite body and blades, a high-visibility cockpit with digital avionics, a shrouded tail rotor, a flat floor and a high ceiling. Honeywell’s HTS900-2 turbine engine will enable a cruise speed of 140 knots and a range of 800 kilometres.
But brand reputation is more than a name and technology. At its core, a brand is built on the people behind it, their skills, their experience and their passion to persevere through the inevitable setbacks of birthing a new aircraft.
Stucki, who had sketched helicopter designs as a schoolboy, had the initial vision of “a helicopter from pilots for pilots.” He was able to attract investors, sign launch customers and assemble prototypes, but multiple delays slipped the original 2015 first-delivery date to 2018, and at the end of 2016 the board rather abruptly cast the founder aside.
Former Eurocopter deputy executive vie-president Löwenstein was brought in last March to “transform in very short term this totally engineering-minded company into a helicopter manufacturer.” That required production experience, product support savvy, supply chain, sales and pilot training. “You do not certify the aircraft only, you certify a system,” he said in an interview.
Two of his key hires are chief technology officer Michele Riccobono, former head of flight test operations at Leonardo Helicopters in Italy, and COO Jan Nowacki, who led the airframe and rotor blades divisions of Airbus Helicopters in Germany. “We have people who have shown in their prior jobs that they are totally up to the mission,” said Löwenstein.
Since then, Kopter has grown rapidly, with more than 100 new employees in the past year. The company now has a workforce of about 250.
“We are the perfect example of the globalised industry,” said Löwenstein. “We have 17 nationalities from all parts of the world.” That includes Canada – Concordia University alum Andrew Shahidi is marketing product manager. “If you are experienced but still a young engineer, you want to live the adventure. You want to have achievement. In bigger organizations this is difficult. I think they have quite quickly identified our company as the only one in Europe where you can have this start-up flavour and do solid and serious work. We have young engineers with huge responsibilities; you can show here that you have something in the gut. It’s a bit like the Google of helicopters.”
EASA certification is now expected at the end of 2018 or in the first quarter of 2019. The all-important FAA certification – especially for EMS sales – should follow six to eight months later. The U.S. allows single-engine aeromed, but Europe currently requires twin-engine. Transport Canada certification would begin following a firm order.
Kopter has sufficient firm orders to cover the first two years of production (six aircraft the first year, 20 the second), 19 “pre-contracts” and more than 120 letters of intent, including some from Horizon Helicopters in Whitehorse, Yukon, plus two others in Quebec, unannounced as yet.
Rick Adams is chief perspective officer of AeroPerspectives, an aviation communications consultancy in the south of France, and is the editor of ICAO Journal.
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