Utility Plus

OEMs talk about the state of the industry
David Carr
July 16, 2007
By David Carr
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.

While 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."

Cleland 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 A109E Power.

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.

"Our efforts 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.

(…)

As 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.

(…)

Robinson 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 operators.

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.

(…)

Family-controlled 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 utility sector.

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.

First 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 2004.

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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