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Airbus Helicopters is, at last, ramping up the production of the H175 super medium twin to levels the company had been planning before the offshore oil-and-gas downturn hit in 2013 to 2014.
Eleven examples of the H175 will be delivered this year, according to program director Marc Allongue. Next year, the production rate is to increase to 14 or 15. The full capacity, 30, is expected to be reached in 2020.
In June 2014, six months before the entry into service of the H175, Airbus was planning on 18 deliveries in 2015. The plan had to be drastically altered. In March this year, only 12 H175s were in service.
But the program is gaining momentum. The 20th aircraft has just been delivered and is to enter service soon. A total of 100 aircraft have been ordered and the main customer, Belgium-based NHV, is operating 10. The average availability in the in-service fleet has been measured at “more than 80 percent,” Allongue said.
The H175 meets the needs of the offshore oil-and-gas industry in terms of safety and comfort, according to Airbus Helicopters chief executive officer Guillaume Faury. In addition to NHV, two major offshore operators — Babcock and CHC — have the type in their fleet. Some own the aircraft, while some lease them from companies like Milestone Aviation. Seventeen H175s have been delivered for oil-and-gas offshore operations.
The sector has not recovered but it still needs helicopters. David Prevor, Airbus Helicopters’ head of marketing, also noted a softening in the trend to automate oil rigs. Over the past five years, 40 to 50 percent of the new rigs were automated, at a significant investment.
Another factor in the current success of the program has been orders — three — from the VIP sector. One H175 flies to and from a 480-foot super-yacht.
Finally, parapublic missions have been the source of more sales, to Thailand and Hong Kong, for instance. The “Public Services” variant is being developed for its first customer, Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service. “Technical acceptance” is scheduled for late this year and the first delivery is to take place in the middle of next year.
The H175 is a 50/50 joint development with China’s Avicopter. Although the program started in 2005 and the first flight took place in 2009, the quality of the Chinese components — such as the tail boom — still has to be carefully monitored. Some 20 Airbus Helicopters employees are with their counterparts at Avicopter’s factories in Harbin and Changsha. They help with both H175 production and development of the Chinese version, the AC352.
The 18-passenger version is in development, targeting a mid-2018 entry into service. In addition to the interior layout, emergency evacuation procedures have to be reworked and life rafts have to be adapted.
On the final assembly line in Marignane, southeast France, ongoing improvements include reducing the production cycle to 15 weeks, from 52.