No One Left Behind

No One Left Behind

We asked Airbus Helicopters' CEO some of the most difficult questions of the industry: what's the outlook after another weak year, the new US administration, the X6 project and more

by Nicola Zamperini and Stefano Silvestre

How the main helicopter manufacturer of the world is copying with the O&G crisis?  Simple: Working along with Defence and parapublic biggest stakeholders and keeping up a very close contact with customers worldwide. It can look simple, but that’s of course it’s not an easy task.

That’s why no one could explain better what is going to be next for the helicopters industry, that’s why no one will be left behind by Airbus Helicopters. That’s why 2017 will be (again) the year of Guillaume Faury.

We asked Airbus Helicopters’ CEO some of the most difficult questions of the industry: what’s the outlook after another weak year, the future for EU manufactures with the new US administration, the X6 project and more.

He replied in his trademark charming and firm style.

Mr Faury, as you pointed out, 2016 was “probably the most difficult year of the last decade”. Do you see any chance for a market upturn in the next 12 to 18 months?

In 2016 – like in the previous two years -- we had to operate against a very challenging environment on a variety of levels. The fact that we maintained such a level of activity in this environment is a testimony to our resilience and to the benefits of the transformation plan we launched three years ago. I do not want to make any predictions about what lies ahead in terms of market upturn. We have to be prudent, look for opportunities to grow and continue to execute our transformation plan.

What about the transformation plan? What's the road map?

It is precisely thanks to this transformation plan that we remained resilient against the challenging market backdrop. The transformation plan we launched in 2014 has enabled us to improve our competitiveness, optimize our costs and develop our international footprint. The plan is progressing very satisfactorily and we remain committed to three main goals: customer satisfaction, quality & safety, and competitiveness. In terms of customer satisfaction we are making progress in all segments of the market and we will continue to work hard to achieve these safety & quality objectives. We also need to remain agile and adapt the plan to our environment on a permanent basis.

In the photogallery: Airbus Helicopters: 2016 in pictures

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Looking back at 2016 deals in Singapore, Kuwait, UK and all the worldwide commercial efforts, what of these successes have been the most important from a strategic point of view?

Those three military campaigns have all been of strategic importance for the company in 2016. The UK MFTS contract has confirmed Airbus Helicopters as a key partner of the UK Armed Forces and is another testimony of the success of the H135 in military flight training worldwide. The selection of the H225M by Kuwait and Singapore is also proof that this helicopter, which has now been ordered by eight different nations worldwide, meets the requirements of some of the most demanding military operators out there.

In 2016 the global Airbus Helicopters fleet was approximately based on 12.000 helicopters, in service with more than 3,000 operators worldwide. How you will manage to be even more close to AH customers?

Customer satisfaction is a priority for the company, and this goes beyond the delivery of a new helicopter. We need to keep our customers flying and we work hard to provide them with the necessary support and services to carry out their operations efficiently, safely and cost-effectively. To achieve that goal, our company has implemented a network which spans around 150 countries and works around the clock to bring solutions right to our customers' doorstep. We have also developed a full offer of connected services that can bring considerable value by making a lot of tasks easier, reducing complexity and eliminate the potential for mistakes.

What about the new US administration and the protectionist policies announced in the last months? Do you see any impact for Airbus Helicopters' market shares in the US?

It is still very early to be able to give reliable predictions. The US market has been at a record low in 2016, and if there is an effect it can, in my opinion, only be positive. Going forward, our intention remains to be a market leader in North America and to continue to build on our successful product range, both in the military and commercial segments.

After the Super Puma accident in Norway what will be the future of the H225 Platform?

We are now in the return to service phase for the H225, with over 110 aircraft flying worldwide with commercial and military operators. However we are still facing a specific situation in the North Sea, where we need to regain trust from operators and passengers. We are working jointly with the authorities and the operators, in full transparency. Ultimately it is up to the customer to decide which aircraft best meet their needs, but I am confident that the H225, which continues to successfully carry out some of the most demanding missions across the globe, will support offshore operations worldwide.

In the video: H160 Cold Weather campaign

Is the X6 project going ahead?

The concept phase of the X6 program was launched in June 2015 and is progressing at a good pace. The objective of this phase is to evaluate the major architectural choices for this helicopter, while involving a wide range of customers. The official launch of the program will take place at the end of this phase. The X6 will incorporate the technologies best suited to the needs of the civilian market in the next decade and beyond.

Last question about the latest Airbus helicopter, the H160. Thinking ahead at the next decade of development, what could be the features of the next generation helicopters?

In spite of a challenging market environment, we kept innovating at a fast pace in 2016 in order to better serve the needs of our customers in the mid- and long-term. This is what we are doing with the development of the H160: it is, quite simply, a next-generation helicopter, designed to set new benchmarks and bring along a totally new experience for our customers. But we are also exploring other avenues, for instance with the Clean Sky 2 high-speed demonstrator project. This is a very exciting project with which we want to demonstrate “affordable speed” for future helicopters. Urban air mobility is also high on our agenda, with the CityAirbus project having been launched early in 2017, and with first autonomous flights expected in late 2018.

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