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Leading the Charge

Spend a few hours with Eurocopter Canada’s new president and CEO, Romain Trapp, and one thing is immediately obvious – this isn’t a hands off, “hide-in-your-office” kind of corporate leader.


October 24, 2013
By Matt Nicholls


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Spend a few hours with Eurocopter Canada’s new president and CEO, Romain Trapp, and one thing is immediately obvious – this isn’t a hands off, “hide-in-your-office” kind of corporate leader. The affable, 41-year-old with the welcoming smile was busy chatting up employees as he, along with director, communications and corporate affairs Laura Senecal and customer service director Gordon Kay, took me on a behind-the-scenes look at Eurocopter Canada’s Fort Erie, Ont., headquarters in early September.

X3  
Earlier this year, Eurocopter’s innovative X3 broke the level flight and diving helicopter speed records in France. 


 

Eurocopter Canada has steadily grown into a driving force in the Canadian helicopter industry. Established in 1984 and employing some 250 highly-skilled manufacturing and maintenance workers, Eurocopter Canada designs, develop and, manufactures aircraft and composite components for the Eurocopter Group’s production lines in France and Germany. The company manufactures some 20 new aircraft and more than 1,500 engine cowlings parts as well as other components.

With company revenues topping $95 million in 2012 and projected revenues hitting $114 million this year, the newly appointed Trapp is seeking to build on the success that has enabled Eurocopter Canada to gain 34 per cent of the turbine helicopter fleet in Canada – and as of last year, claim 59 per cent of new turbine deliveries north of the
U.S. border.

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Trapp sat down with  Helicopters  to explain his take on the Canadian helicopter industry and reveal his vision for Eurocopter Canada.

Helicopters: Congratulations on your recent appointment as Eurocopter Canada’s new president and CEO. What was your first order of business upon taking over the role?

RT: First of all thank you for the opportunity. This is my first interview with a publication in Canada; I am glad it could be  Helicopters It is a wonderful opportunity to lead the world’s No. 1 helicopter manufacturer in Canada. It is definitely a very exciting job for me, and it’s also a natural move. After five years at American Eurocopter as executive vice-president and then CFO, I gained a lot of experience about the American market, which has a certain number of similarities with the Canadian market. And since I started on July 1, I have met with customers and operators all across the country to gain a strong understanding of the Canadian market and the specific aspects of it.

Helicopters: You have had tremendous success in your career at EADS with the Airbus 380A program in France and Germany, and then in the U.S market with American Eurocopter. Are there any experiences that come to mind that translate well to your new role here?

RT: I think one of the best experiences I have had – and it’s why I am so very proud to be part of this industry – was when American Eurocopter delivered an EC145 to a children’s hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. We had a special ceremony that included the pilots, crews, nurses, paramedics – everyone involved in the process. They were all taking care of children – some one, two years old – with very serious illnesses. It makes you proud to be helping them and saving lives. Our product saves lives, protects people, participates in the growth of the economy and creates jobs.

Helicopters:  A great story, one of the real benefits of being able to work in this profession. I’m sure your experiences in France also allowed you to gain a broader perspective of the aerospace industry.

RT: Absolutely. I was very fortunate to be able to work on both the fixed-wing and rotary-wing sides. It’s all about aviation and it’s such a fascinating field. I am not a pilot, but I understand the role it plays and how it connects people. I remember when I first worked for Airbus in Toulouse, I had an opportunity to tour the facility with my grandfather, who was 90 years old at the time. He had never flown in an aircraft. Showing him the large fixed-wing aircraft, it was absolutely incredible. He was so proud of me to be part of building such a tremendous product. I was a finance guy; I wasn’t turning the wrench, but he was so proud of me. I was really proud of that, too.

Helicopters:  So, you’re not a pilot, you’re not turning the wrench. What drove you towards a career in aviation?

B2  
The AS350 B2 has been the aircraft of choice among Eurocopter Canada customers for some time.
(Photos courtesy of Eurocopter)


 

RT: When I started at Airbus, I remember my first interview, the guy in front of me told me, Romain I don’t get it. You should work for a consulting company. You should work for a bank. Why do you want to work here? I told him that yes, I want to work in the financial world, but I need to create a link between the figures on the page and something that I can see, something that I can touch. I need to be close to a product and be proud of it. That’s exactly why I started at Airbus. I could never work in a bank – I need to stay in an industry like this to see the influence of the product.

Helicopters:  What are the growth opportunities for Eurocopter Canada in both the civil and military markets over the next few years?

RT: We have been the civil market leader in Canada for more than 10 years and have a strong leadership position in the utility, law enforcement and corporate markets. But so far, we have not had the same success on the military side, even though Eurocopter remains the largest helicopter manufacturer in the world. I am looking forward to demonstrating the capabilities of the Eurocopter product line to the Canadian military.

In terms of the civil market share, there is growth in both the oil and gas and hydro markets. This year, mining and forestry activities are down, but at the same time these markets are cyclical. These markets are going to come back – perhaps not at the beginning of next year, but for sure at some point no later than two years from now. This is the way it is with all the commodities in Canada.

Helicopters:  In terms of product development, the aging Canadian fleet offers real opportunity for Eurocopter Canada. Which aircraft will best suit the needs of Canadian operators in the future?

RT: With our AStar family, on the single-engine side, we are the market leader. The AS350 B2 has been the aircraft of choice with our customers, and what we are seeing, is the B3e is becoming the standard. We have delivered 10 B3e’s this year already with more to come. The trend is definitely from the B2 to the B3e. Operators appreciate the improved performance, affordability… and as I remind everyone at our facility daily, we want to make the best aircraft, the most reliable aircraft, the safest aircraft – that’s the goal. For the price difference between the B2 and the B3e, when you have the choice and it fits your market, it makes sense to switch. When you want to expand or be able to manage more diverse missions, the B3e is the machine
of choice.

Helicopters:  Are there other voids in the market that you can see Eurocopter Canada targeting in the next few years?

RT: Yes, I have good idea of some areas I would like to concentrate on. What really surprised me when I arrived in Canada is the average age of the fleet: it’s 27 years. It’s very old for a country like this, which of course, creates opportunities for replacement. We are going to focus strongly on the replacement of light single-engine aircraft, light-twin engine aircraft and light-medium engine aircraft. In addition to the B3e, the EC135 is starting to make a big push in Canada. This should have significant success in Canada for years to come. In terms of performance, capability and affordability, it brings much of what operators are looking for. It is also a twin engine, which brings a safety level they demand. It is very well fitted for utility needs as well as EMS and law enforcement. It is also a top seller worldwide. There are more than 1,000 EC135s flying worldwide, so it’s a proven commodity. In the U.S., the EC135 is the standard for EMS operations in the light-twin segment, as well as law enforcement and hydro activities. I believe the same trend will happen here. At a certain point in time, operators will have to upgrade their machines – when that time comes, they will have options.

Helicopters: You mentioned earlier that when you first came into your role, you met with operators to find out their perceptions of product, their needs, etc. What feedback have you received?

RT: I have not had a single day of vacation! Overall, I am pleased with the feedback coming back. We have many strengths, one of which I am consistently hearing about: the relationship we have with operators at all levels of our business. This, of course, is due to the professionalism of our team, who are all passionate about what they do. We have been able to develop options and manufacture products that suit their needs and requirements. There are challenges of course, and we need to improve our support processes. We also need to work to deliver top customer service, which sets a high standard in our industry.

Helicopters: What are some of the differences in market demand in Canada versus those in the U.S. and Europe?

RT: One of the first things that jumped out to me was the U.S. and European markets have a much more diverse EMS market than Canada, as well as a larger law enforcement base. It makes sense from a city infrastructure point of view in terms of scope, but at the same time, there are many places in Canada that could benefit from these services. I do believe this is something that will change, but I was very surprised. Helicopters have proven their efficiency in both areas over and over in the U.S. It’s strange to me that some of the biggest cities in Canada do not have aircraft. We are working with some of these regions to show them what the helicopter can bring. You have to think about a relatively small number of aircraft in the country compared to the overall total. When you take the overall size of the Canadian fleet, 90 per cent are flying for utility. This is due to the specific nature of the economy but only 10 per cent are flying for EMS, law enforcement, corporate and more. There are significant opportunities here.

In addition, what makes Canada so different is helicopters are often operating in remote locations in pretty harsh conditions. On top of that, you have high seasonality: helicopters are flying from April until October, which creates plenty of challenges for operators.

Helicopters: Working to create the safest helicopter environment possible is a top priority for operators and OEMs alike. How is Eurocopter Canada working to ensure the Canadian operating environment is as safe as possible?

RT: Safety is definitely our No. 1 priority and one of the ways we work to attain this is through proper training. Eurocopter Canada provides pilot and maintenance training to all customers, which gives them a chance to operate the aircraft, maintain and repair the aircraft at the highest levels of quality and excellence. We also give Canadian operators a chance to train in our facility in Dallas with American Eurocopter, where we have our simulators. These are excellent tools for both the pilots and crews to improve their capabilities, their experiences and face situations that could be difficult to face in real life. All of our simulators are Transport Canada approved.

Also, last year we launched the Innovation in Safety Award, which highlights an individual or organization which has exceptional skill or demonstrates a groundbreaking approach to promoting safety in Canada. Safety is not an option; it is, and always will be, Eurocopter Canada’s top priority.

We also launched in 2012 for our Rotor Rewards Club members a safety seminar for corporate customers. This year, we had 35 participants in Montreal, which was a great opportunity for them to gain a better understanding of the aircraft. They are not flying
a lot of hours, and this gives them time
to interact with the pilots and learn valuable information.

Helicopters: Eurocopter is the world’s No. 1 helicopter manufacturer, but how can it remain competitive in the Canadian marketplace going forward against stiff competition?

RT: We have invested a significant amount of resources in Canada over the year and will continue to do so going forward. Eurocopter Canada was created 29 years ago and I am very proud to be involved in celebrating our 30th anniversary next year. We will be highlighting 30 years of growth, 30 years of successes, 30 years of supporting our customers, 30 years of growing the economy and creating jobs here in Canada. And it’s not only Eurocopter Canada that has had success in this country. The entire EADS group has a very strong presence here through our different affiliates. We have a very extensive footprint and actively participate in the country’s economic growth and job creation.

Helicopters: Many corporate leaders I have spoken with speak of finding the right talent to drive their operations in the future. How do you create a corporate environment that establishes trust and promotes growth, development and initiative?

P8050736MGN  
Eurocopter Canada’s new president and CEO, Romain Trapp, sees plenty of growth opportunities in the year’s ahead,
particularly in law enforcement and EMS. (Photo by Matt Nicholls)


 

RT: When people come to Eurocopter Canada they very quickly develop a passion for not only their jobs, but the products they create. When I mentioned how proud I am to work for a company that creates products that save lives, that is protecting people, participating to the growth of the economy . . . our employees feel the same thing. And when you develop a passion for your work, you become engaged in the environment and want to stay. It’s all about creating the right team spirit, a working relationship where they feel recognized and valued in their roles on an everyday basis – and at the end of the day they feel proud. And the next time you come to visit, you will see many changes that will help to strengthen this connection.

Just a simple thing, for example, is celebrating a delivery ceremony for customers with all employees. We have just started doing this. For me it’s a way to thank the customer for their business but also thank the team for the great work they have done. This is something I want to do for each and every delivery.

Helicopters: Technology and innovation are critical in staying ahead of your competition and successfully serving your client base. How is Eurocopter achieving this goal?

RT: Innovation and developing technologically advanced products has been one of the most important objectives at Eurocopter. For example, the X3 in June broke the level flight and diving helicopter speed records in France – and this is just a technology demonstrator. And you are going to see the outcome of this technology for sure in Canada in the next decade. Many of our other products that we have recently brought to the market clearly illustrate how important innovation is for us. The EC175, EC145 T2, and coming soon, the X4, which was introduced last year, are some examples. It’s all about staying ahead of the game and providing a higher level of safety.

Helicopters: The Eurocopter motto is “thinking without limits.” Can you give me a few examples to illustrate this from a Canadian market perspective?

RT: Our products like the X3 and the X4 illustrate this concept. We have a significant team of engineers developing and thinking of concepts to keep us ahead of the game in terms of design. In May, we also demonstrated the capability of our helicopters to be flown in an unmanned capacity – optionally pilot enabled. We have conducted tests in France with an unmanned EC145 to demonstrate this concept. We are definitely going to see in the next decade more unmanned helicopters in
various roles.

Helicopters: What excites you most about the helicopter business? What’s the best thing about leading a helicopter manufacturer?

RT: It’s just very exciting and satisfying to work in an industry and work on products that save lives and protect people. And we play an active role in growing the economy. Each year when I attend the HAI award dinner and I see the special videos of the various recipients, it makes me so proud to be part of the helicopter community.

This year was very special for me because I had the great honour of giving the Eurocopter Golden Hour Award during HAI to the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS). This is definitely what makes me happy and drives me to go to work each day – seeing the great things our products do every day. It’s a great challenge, because there are many more people we can save, many more people we can protect and help with our products.


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