Agusta Aerospace Corporation, an Agusta Westland Company, signaled its intention to step up its Canadian marketing efforts last September when it appointed Patrick Tavernier regional sales manager for Canada. Vancouver-based Tavernier’s appointment represents a clear shift in the helicopter manufacturer’s North American business strategy since first entering the US market.
Agusta did not ignore Canadian customers, it did not aggressively
pursue them either – which explains why the world’s secondlargest
helicopter market has been underdeveloped territory for a company with
over 7,100 helicopters operating in 80 countries. "The Canadian market
was seen then as primarily a utility single-engine market," explained
Robert Cleland, director of sales and marketing at Agusta’s North
American headquarters in Philadelphia. "Our competitors quickly took
the lead and we find that now we have to work at catching up."
is confident that the company has the right platforms to catch up in
both the traditional utility sector with the Pratt & Whitney
Canada-powered A119 Koala, which he describes as "the largest and most
powerful single- engine helicopter in the world," and in the emerging
VIP/transport sector with a combination of Koalas and the twin-engine
Agusta believes its Canadian business strategy is
unfolding at just the right time. "We see the market expanding. With a
strong Canadian dollar it is apparent that operators and individuals
are now exploring the feasibility of renewing or adding to their
fleets," Tavernier pointed out. Helping to make Agusta’s case in Canada
is improved after-sales support, a primary consideration for cautious
operators in both the new and pre-owned markets.
would be in vain if we did not deliver support for our helicopters on a
par with the high performance and quality of our products," Cleland
said. In the last ten years the company has poured more resources into
parts inventory, test equipment and technical personnel. Cleland noted
that customers gave Agusta top marks in service support according to
recent industry survey.
A flurry of orders in the
final quarter of 2003 has provided a welcome boost for Bell
Helicopter’s commercial aircraft production facility at Mirabel, and
has set the stage for increased manufacturing activity in 2004 said
Jacques St- Laurent, president of Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Ltd.
From a diversity of market standpoint, a number of deliveries Bell made
to Canadian customers in 2003 were outside the utility sector and
included several corporate operators.
“The corporate market is
growing in Canada and should improve even further with the increased
popularity of the 407 and the introduction of the 427 to corporate
Canada,” St- Laurent explained.
Some industry analysts have
suggested that Bell has invested too much time in tiltrotor technology
at the expense of other helicopter programs.
That has not been
the case, pointed out St-Laurent. “Much of 2003 has been focused on
making operational improvements to the current product line, including
those in the field.” Most notably, the Model 407, which recently
surpassed the one million flight hours mark after entering service in
early 1996. Denny Lacroix, director of marketing noted that the
accumulation of operating data would assist Bell in helping operators
to achieve greater efficiencies in the future. At least one major
Canadian operator reported that the cost of operating his fleet of 407s
is now comparable to when he operated 206 Longrangers.
one of only two major helicopter builders with a Canadian manufacturing
presence, Eurocopter is aggressively seeking to expand the pie on two
horizons: tapping into emerging markets outside of Canada’s traditional
utility sector, and coaxing existing operators past their addiction for
buying ‘new’ equipment on the used market.
While it is expected
to be tough sledding in both utility and non-utility markets, the
emerging sector will likely prove to be the one of least resistance.
Over half the ten new aircraft Eurocopter delivered to Canadians in
2004 were delivered to non-utility operators. Not enough to light up
the board, but given that nonutility operations account for only 10% of
helicopter activity in Canada (compared with a polar opposite 90% in
the US) it was more than enough to point to a defining presence in the
corporate and para-public sectors.
“It was a mixed bag,” said
Tony Brown, vice-president of sales and customer support for Fort Erie,
Ontario-based Eurocopter Canada. “About one-third went to para-public,
another couple for corporate and special-use operators. There is a
definite paradigm shift in the Canadian market as far as the purchase
of new aircraft is concerned.”
Expect Eurocopter to exploit that
shift even further with a full court press on aircraft such as the
spaciouscabin, high-visibility EC130, which had conducted a national
demonstration tour in the fall and spring of 2002/03.
delivered its 5,000th helicopter in September 2003; the crowning
achievement in a year already highlighted by record production. The
manufacturer produced 422 helicopters last year, including 219 of the
popular R44 Raven II. Many industry observers believe the design of the
Raven II, currently outselling the original Raven by a margin of four
to one, was guided by the invisible hand of West Coast Canadian
The Raven II entered production in 2002, the same
year Robinson had delivered its 1,200th Raven I. Company founder and
CEO Frank Robinson suggested that Canadian operators no longer have to
split low-altitude and high-altitude missions between the R22 and the
more powerful JetRanger. "The basic R44 was limited in the jobs it
could do in Canada because it was a little wanting in altitude
performance. There is now opportunity for fleet commonality," he said.
Schweizer Aircraft has largely been pigeonholed in Canada as a supplier
of first-rate training helicopters. And while it is a comfortable niche
to be in given the tight market for pre-owned trainers in this country,
the Elmira, New York-based manufacturer makes no secret of its desire
to expand into other areas, particularly Canada’s breadand- butter
That is one reason why Schweizer, which only
entered the crowded rotorwing field 20 years ago after successfully
taking over production and support of the Hughes 269 series of
helicopters, will be showcasing a Model 333 turbine complete with cargo
hook at this year’s Heli Expo in Las Vegas. “Whenever Heli Expo is in
the western US it tends to draw a larger number of west coast
operators, particularly form Alberta and British Columbia, explained
Barb Tweedt, director of marketing for Schweizer.
introduced in 2001 as a replacement to the 330SP, the light turbine 333
recently received a power boost, raising the maximum five-minute
takeoff power limit from 252 SHP to 280 SHP.
“This has improved
hover performance capacity and performance during high gross weight
operations in high and hot environments,” explained Paul Schweizer,
president of the company.
As lead partner in the
Ottawa-based Maritime Helicopter Team, Sikorsky Aircraft’s Canadian
focus for the next few months at least is going to be making certain
its H-92 Superhawk fits the requirement of the Canadian Forces’
Maritime Helicopter Project (MHP). Sikorsky and its partners, General
Dynamics Canada and L-3 MAS Canada (formerly Bombardier’s military
aviation services division), join Team Cormorant as one of two
contenders qualifying for the proposal to replace Canada’s durable but
ageing fleet of Sea Kings. The Sea King itself is a Sikorsky aircraft
that first entered service in 1961.
If successful with the MHP,
it will be the second time in two years that a Canadian organization
has provided the launch order for a new Sikorsky product. At Heli Expo
2003 in Dallas, offshore specialist Cougar Helicopters of Halifax
firmed up three outstanding orders for the S-92 multipurpose,
twin-engine aircraft. The first helicopter is scheduled to be delivered
to Cougar and its end-use operator, Petro- Canada, in the summer of
For the immediate term, the booming east coast offshore
oil industry will continue to be Sikorsky’s Canadian ‘sweet spot’ for
its civilian helicopter programs. It is not hard to understand why; the
industry is thriving. Thirty new oil wells including up to 17 deepwater
wells will be drilled on Canada’s east coast over the next five years,
according to Ocean Resources, a Canadian offshore oil and gas industry
publication. “Offshore is going to be the mainstay of our Canadian
orders for a few years to come,” confirmed Jack Donahue, sales manager
of major accounts at Sikorsky.
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