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European Helicopters

PAH-1 BO 105
A129 Mangusta
EC 665 Tiger
PAH-2 Tiger
NEES New Exploration and
Escort Helo
40-ton FTH
15-ton SA 321 Super Frelon
EH101 Cormorant
EH101 Merlin
10-ton AS 532 Cougar
AS-332 Super Puma
SA 330 Puma
Sea King
EC225 Cougar
EC725 Cougar
NH 90
Fast Rotorcraft
7-ton AW139
EC 175
5-ton AS 565 Panther
SA 360 Dauphin 2
AW159 Lynx Wildcat
EC 145
EC 155
W-3A Sokol
X4 / H160
3-ton A109 Hirundo
EC 635
2-ton AS 350 Ecureuil
AS 355 Ecureuil
SA 315 Alouette II
SA 316 Alouette III
SA 318 Alouette II
SA 319 Alouette III
SE 313 Alouette II
SA 341 Gazelle
SA 342 Gazelle
AS 550 Fennec
AW119 Koala
EC 120

There are more civil rotorcraft operated in the US than in all the European nations put together: North America operates 35% of the global fleet (12,054 aircraft), followed by Europe (27% = 9,378 aircraft), Asia-Pacific (18% = 6,085 aircraft), Latin America (13% = 4,416 aircraft), Africa (5% = 1808 aircraft), and the Middle East (2% = 546 aircraft) (source: Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer database - September 2015).

But, contrast that with who actually manufactures these aircraft and the picture becomes more nuanced. Airbus (Europe) has 34% of the market, AgustaWestland (now Finmeccanica - Europe) has 20%, Bell (USA) has 19%, Robinson (USA) 12%, and Sikorsky (USA) 5%. Europe's share of manufacturing in Rotorcraft appears to be growing, and technology is a key driver underpinning this trend.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the World helicopter industry was a tale of two continents. While U.S. helicopter production was dormant, the European helicopter industry experienced a period of growth and increased industry consolidation. Other countries such as Russia, Japan, Malaysia, India, South Africa, and China produce rotorcraft, but are not significant global competitors.

In 1992, Aérospatiale joined with the German helicopter firm MBB to create Eurocopter Holdings. Both companies were already participating in the four-nation NH.90 helicopter project, along with the Italian firm Agusta and the German firm Fokker. The NH.90 was developed as a multi-purpose helicopter capable of serving as a troop transport, and in anti-submarine and anti-shipping roles. The end of the Cold War and the diminished demand for military helicopters are the primary reasons that many European firms are forming consortia to build their new helicopters, and this trend shows no signs of changing.

The European helicopter industry is characterized by a large number of sub-contractors with highly specialised skills. To varying degrees, by the late 1980s defense industry restructuring has occurred within the borders of major European defense producing nations, including France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. In Italy, by 1995 Finmeccanica had gained control of about three-quarters of the Italian defense industry, including Italy's major helicopter manufacturer Agusta and aircraft manufacturer Alenia. In the United Kingdom, a number of mergers and acquisitions have occurred. For example, GKN purchased the helicopter manufacturer Westland.

Although helicopter production started to level off in the late 1990s, global terrorism sparked renewed interest in aviation across the board. The prospect of increased aviation procurement and R&D funding is expected to provide a degree of stability in the industry, and this will allow helicopter manufactures to pursue promising rotary wing technology – composite, tilt rotor, remotely piloted vehicles, and canard aircraft. Traditional rotary wing markets – military, law enforcement, medical evacuation and energy exploration/exploitation – sustained the helicopter industry over the past decade, and now it appears that the civil rotary wing sector is about to enter a period of recovery.

Airbus Helicopters / Eurocopter X-series
X1AS350 B3e
X2EC130 T2
X3High-speed long-range Hybrid Helicopter demonstrator
X4Dauphin successor
  • Compound dual pusher-prop (unbuilt)
  • H160 revised medium utility design
  • X5EC145 T2
    X6Replacement for the Super Puma family
    X9New Eurocopter Donauwörth project
    The helicopter sector is highly competitive and consists of five major producers that account for over 94% of the industry’s market value: Sikorsky, Bell Helicopter, and Boeing in the US, and Agusta Westland [owned by Italy’s Finmeccanica] and Airbus Helicopters [formerly EADS Eurocopter] in Europe. Sikorsky, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp, produces and supports a range of military (UH-60 and CH-53) and civil helicopters (S-70 and S-76), and is developing a large transport (S-92) helicopter for both markets. Bell Helicopter, a subsidiary of Textron Industries, is the only North American manufacturer that claims to produce an even balance of military and commercial rotorcraft. Bell produces a family of rotorcraft for the commercial market, with both single and twin turbine engines, which fit in the light to medium category. The Boeing Company, through their Integrated Defense Systems division, produces military transport and attack helicopters.

    Agusta Westland and Airbus Helicopters each have strong entrants in the light to medium lift categories. Agusta Westland also teamed with Lockheed Martin to market the EH-101 and signed an agreement with Bell Helicopter to manufacture and market the EH-101 in the U.S. as the US-101. This aircraft will be a significant competitor to the S-92.

    The rotorcraft industry can be characterized as technologically mature but structurally unstable due to overcapacity in its manufacturing sectors. Consolidation and / or teaming arrangements in Europe have greatly reduced the number of European competitors. Such consolidation has resulted in a trend of growing profitability. Most notable, GKN’s Westland and Finmeccanica’s Agusta merged in 2000 and the merged operation proved to be a genuine success for the two previously struggling manufacturers. With a forecasted market share of 13% of the world market, the combined company managed to become a viable world competitor with their EH-101 helicopter.

    France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and recently Portugal also established a cooperative agreement to further boost their presence in the helicopter industry. In this case, with the NH-90, a high-tech helicopter jointly developed by Agusta (Italy), Eurocopter (France and Germany), and Fokker (Netherlands) under the guidance of a new parent company, NH Industries (NHI), and NATO Helicopter Management Agency (HAHEMA). The NH-90 has captured the majority of the NATO light-medium lift market. NH-90 is the largest joint helicopter program ever launched in Europe with nearly 400 aircraft orders and with a forecast of potentially reaching 600 aircraft. The NH-90 was also selected by Norway, Sweden and Denmark for the Nordic Standard Helicopter Program.

    The European helicopter market is virtually closed to American helicopter producers. Each of the six major European helicopter purchases between 1997 and 2005 were awarded to Eurocopter, AgustaWestland or EADS. And in 2005, Finmeccanica, the Italian company that owns AgustaWestland, went to court to prevent the Italian government from offering a competitive bidding process for a 250-helicopter contract.

    The world rotorcraft industry faces numerous major challenges. The first challenge is over-capacity. Although several European helicopter companies have merged and are reaping the economic benefits of the consolidation, the U.S. helicopter industry has not moved beyond limited joint ventures and co-production arrangements. Consequently, U.S. companies seem to have surrendered market share and are losing opportunities for technological advancements. Several senior members of the U.S. government and military challenged the U.S. industry “to lead in rotary wing technological development or surrender this vital area to the Europeans”.

    The second challenge is in the area of regulatory problems, safety and lagging infrastructure. The regulatory issues concern noise and the lack of flight rules that recognize the unique capability of rotorcraft flight. Rotorcraft noise issues have gotten so bad that many community’s have banded together to fight the establishment of helicopter transit routes and heliports anywhere near their residential properties. Public perception that rotorcraft flights are not as safe as fixed wing aircraft fleets must also be overcome. The goal should be to make rotorcraft flight as safe or safer than jetliner flight. Finally, the area of lagging infrastructure is concerned with instrument landing-capable helipads that facilitate transport to convenient locations in any weather. Being forced to take off and land at centralized locations or only at airports negates much of the convenience and timesaving advantages of rotorcraft flight. Addressing these problems of regulatory issues, noise, safety and infrastructure are vital to achieve an increase in the civil market by expanding the rotorcraft transport mission. Resolving these issues will be particularly important when (and if) commercial tilt rotors begin production.

    A third challenge is research and development (R&D) funding. Although the declining R&D investment trend of the past 10-15 years has leveled off, it is too early to tell if recent increases in U.S. government R&D funds, for tilt-rotor aircraft in particular, will migrate to other parts of the rotary wing industry.

    After two years of intensive discussions the new European Helicopter Association (EHA), by August 2009 was operational. The new EHA finally gathered under the same roof all sectors in the European helicopter industry, such as the former (old) EHA, now re-named NHAC (National Helicopter Association Committee), representing helicopter Associations from more than 12 Countries in Europe; EHOC (European Helicopter Operators Committee), with their own thriving community of specialists within off-shore operators and EHAC (European HEMS and Air Ambulance Committee) representing the concerns and interests of operators in the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) and Air Ambulance.

    The EU has more than 1,700 military helicopters - of 22 types - yet a lack of versatile pilots, old and ill-suited craft, caveats on deployment and flying cost concerns, have meant that no more than 7% are sent into action. There is a decade’s worth of evidence that this was always the missing element. Ministers now seem to understand that. It doesn’t necessarily mean more orders, but it does mean looking in inventories, looking at training, on making ready helicopters for flying hot, high and in dusty conditions.

    Perhaps an indicator of that trend might be the groundwork underway on creating a multinational European helicopter for use in military operations or in case of emergencies and natural disasters. Since 2008, the European Defense Agency [EDA] has been assisting the participating Member States (pMS) in enhancing their helicopter capability through training. This has included the procurement of the Interim Synthetic Tactics Course and the delivery of 4 multinational helicopter exercises.

    The shortcomings of European military air transport seem to be a real concern for defence specialists in the European Union, as seen in a report approved by the French National Assembly in 2008. The French army had to deal with problems shared by other European armies: lack of availability of spare parts, old equipment, adaptation to new European and international flight standards, lack of maintenance technical crews (drawn to the private sector because of better pay), multiple maintenance lots for forces deployed externally and an industrial environment with little competition or even virtual monopolies, limiting the diversity of operators. Excessive specialisation of equipment and crews also interfered with the pooling of assets. Interoperability between allied fleets was also limited if communication means were not upgraded.

    Alternative solutions, such as outsourcing or public private partnerships, which allow armies to focus on their core business', are drawing interest. Examples include the pilot training academies in Cognac and Dax (France) and the British fleet of refuelling aircraft. Such arrangements have their limits, however. On the one hand, operational activities must be carried out by military staff and on the other, contract terms must be studied carefully. For example, the British contract establishes that while the aircraft remains in the manufacturer's fleet until it is mobilised, once it has been used by the military it becomes part of the military fleet, with the risk over the longer term of reproducing state management.

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    Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:05:08 ZULU