Kopter & Leonardo execs discuss future plans for Swiss OEM

Kopter CEO Andreas Löwenstein called his company’s acquisition by Leonardo “the highlight of the history of Kopter,” as executives from the two companies made their first public appearance together following the move.

Kopter has been building flight hours with the third prototype of its SH09 in Sicily, Italy. Kopter Photo
Kopter has completed over 100 flights with the third prototype of its SH09 in Sicily, Italy. Kopter Photo
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“It’s a very important, very emotional moment for me, for Kopter, for my team [of] 320 people. And I appreciate highly that you accept us in your family,” he told Leonardo Helicopters managing director Gian Piero Cutillo during a special presentation at HAI Heli-Expo 2020 on Jan. 28.

Kopter, currently based across several sites in Switzerland, is the creator of the upcoming light single SH09, which it hopes to certify before the end of 2020.

“After 10 years of very dense, intense work, all these people, building, innovating, we have achieved the product of which we are quite proud and of which we are convinced will be the market leader, which will change the game in the light helicopter segment,” said Löwenstein.

“We are conscious about the fact that Leonardo will bring a lot of things to us. Leonardo will, as a technology leader, help us, back us, in order to finalize the certification in record time. We will have an industrial network, commercial networks, service networks around the world which will support us to make [the SH09’s entry into service] as solid as possible.”

Kopter and Leonardo executives discussed the acquisition during a ceremony at HAI Heli-Expo 2020. From left: Leonardo Helicopters managing director Gian Piero Cutillo, Kopter CEO Andreas Löwenstein, and Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo. Oliver Johnson Photo
Kopter and Leonardo executives discussed the acquisition during a ceremony at HAI Heli-Expo 2020. From left: Leonardo Helicopters managing director Gian Piero Cutillo, Kopter CEO Andreas Löwenstein, and Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo. Oliver Johnson Photo

The $185-million acquisition was announced just minutes before the doors opened to the helicopter industry’s biggest annual gathering, held this year in Anaheim, California.

“It’s really an important acquisition for Leonardo because it really completes our product portfolio,” said Cutillo. “I do believe it’s the right product to do this.”

He said the purchase of Kopter was “a unique opportunity” as it offered a shortcut in terms of time to market with a new light single aircraft, as well as bringing extensive innovation capabilities.

“I believe that working together with the Kopter team will really give us a lot of opportunity, where we can also improve the current product and explore with this platform . . . new technology in terms of hybrid, in terms of unmanned solutions,” said Cutillo.

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Kopter is to remain an autonomous company “for the time being,” he said, noting that he wanted to preserve the company’s identity and agility.

“We don’t really want to go and change the way they are doing things,” he said. “All the decisions will be made in the interests of Leonardo, obviously, but from now on, we have a common target in the interest of the company.”

Similarly, the Kopter brand is likely to remain – at least in the near term. “It’s an identity, and I like the identity,” said Cutillo. “There’s no final decision, but if I had to say something preliminary I would say it should remain.”

Löwenstein said the acquisition will not negatively impact Kopter’s plan to bring the SH09 to market.

“We feel more solid, because we have all this backing from Leonardo, and this should basically speed what we are doing, in particular in the industrial area where we have a lot of groundwork to do,” he said.

Kopter is building a major extension to its existing facility in Mollis that will allow the company to centralize its currently well-spread operations. Cutillo said nothing has been determined yet as to the fate of this site, or Kopter’s fledgling North American facility in Lafayette, Louisiana.

“I don’t see now the need to do any major change on that [planned footprint],” he said. “We’ve got to really protect the development phase, because we don’t want to slow down any of the current programs, to achieve as soon as possible the certification.”

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