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With a brand new name and a clean sheet design, Kopter Group is planning an aggressive launch in the U.S. as it brings its single-engine SH09 helicopter to market.
Formerly known as Marenco Swisshelicopter, Kopter was officially renamed on Feb. 1 of this year, just weeks before the company hosted a media briefing on Feb. 26 at HAI’s Heli-Expo 2018.
Andreas Loewenstein, Kopter CEO, said the U.S. is expected to account for roughly half of SH09 sales, with the remaining 50 per cent going to buyers in other markets, including Europe, Asia and South America.
For this reason, the company has prioritized the American market and is moving quickly to establish a U.S. presence.
Larry Roberts, senior vice-president of Kopter North America, has come on board to help develop the subsidiary, with full industrial setup, support and maintenance facilities expected to be in place by the end of 2018.
First U.S. deliveries – aircraft built in Europe and customized in the United States –are expected in 2020; by the end of 2021, Kopter plans to deliver its first fully American-assembled helicopter. (A pre-manufacturing center in Switzerland will supply component kits to the factory.)
So far, a U.S. location has not been finalized, although company executives said it must be centrally located to support both the North American and Latin American markets.
Kopter is also cementing a “long-standing” relationship with Shreveport, Lousiana-based Metro Aviation. The well-known completions center will be installing an EMS interior in the SH09. The second prototype of the aircraft will be unveiled with this interior at Heli-Expo on Feb. 27, 2018.
“I’ve said before that the U.S. market is by far the most important,” said Loewenstein while explaining the aggressive plans for U.S. expansion. “You have fleet customers and you have customers with a very high level of mission demand. So for us, it’s very good to go straight to that level.”
An exceptional reception
The SH09 has been in development since 2010 and is completely funded by a private family trust, although the company feels the design is mature enough to invite additional investors. It is now looking to raise an additional 150 million Swiss Francs (about US$160 million) from other sources.
Loewenstein said the new helicopter should be type certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) by Q1 2019, with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval targeted for the second half of that year. On Feb. 21, the OEM received its Design Organization Approval (DOA) from EASA. The milestone makes Kopter eligible to receive the SH09 type certificate.
“We are a Swiss-rooted company but we must be international,” he said, adding that the company is looking to hire 100 additional staff members this year to finalize engineering and development work.
The company’s ambitious vision is to become one of the world’s top three civil helicopter manufacturers, and it says it will achieve this goal through the introduction of safe, cost-effective new technology that will expand an operator’s mission capability.
“The market reception is simply exceptional. What people tell us is that the market has been expecting this aircraft; it is the first new thing in the last 30 years in this segment,” said Loewenstein. “The materials and architecture we use will add tremendous mission ability to this aircraft.”
The SH09 will be certified to 2014 crash standards and features a carbon fiber airframe with dual hydraulics, dual electric and dual full authority digital engine control (FADEC) systems. Its large modular cabin will accommodate up to seven passengers, which rivals twin-engine capacity, and Kopter said up to 10 suitcases can fit into its rear-access cargo hold.
The manufacturer refers to its new helicopter as the “the flying Swiss pocket knife” in a reference to its many advertised mission capabilities.
Vertical reference windows allow a wide field of view, making the SH09 attractive to tourism operators as well as law enforcement and passenger transport utilities, although the EMS segment is where Loewenstein said the SH09’s roomy cabin will be most appreciated.
“In many cases, you buy a bigger helicopter because you need a bigger cabin – EMS in particular,” he commented. “We have here roughly the cabin of the [Airbus Helicopters H]145, but in a single-engine helicopter and at a third of the cost.”
A five composite-bladed rotor with low tip speed produces low vibration and reduces noise, while a shrouded tail rotor also helps to dampen sound. The helicopter will also feature an NVG-compatible modular glass cockpit.
Kopter is currently holding 130 letters of intent for the SH09, with 27 firm orders and 19 memoranda of agreement (MOA). The aircraft will be introduced to market with five launch customers, including Swiss operators Alpinlift Helikopter and Air Zermatt.