Airbus Helicopters launched its Corporate brand at last year’s EBACE show. In the 12 months since, Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH) has been further defining and optimising not only its aircraft, but also its service offering. Airbus Helicopters, and Eurocopter before it, already offered corporate and VIP machines, but ACH aims to provide a discrete identity to what’s effectively a complete range of VIP aircraft. It aligns them with the Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) brand in terms of image and quality, separating the OEM’s luxury helicopters from its successful businesses in offshore, police, helicopter emergency medical service, search and rescue, and utility machines.
Speaking at Airbus Helicopter’s London Oxford Airport facility, ACH CEO Frédéric Lemos explained how the Airbus Corporate brand now encompasses ACH and ACJ, but just how close are the two divisions? “As ACH’s offering matures, more and more synergies are being identified with ACJ,” Lemos told EVA. “ACJ and ACH are both part of Airbus’ business aviation offering, making it the only OEM with a dedicated corporate aviation offering for fixed and rotary-wing customers. We’re working on how to provide a compelling offer to customers interested in a true end-to-end travel experience, with the jet providing the long-distance travel, while the helicopter provides the final leg of the journey.”
At the same time, he acknowledges that many more customers are likely to take only the helicopter product. “In those cases where synergies are less apparent – not least due to the lower entry barrier for the helicopter market – ACH leverages Airbus Helicopters’ experience in developing tailored solutions for private and business aviation, ensuring their unique requirements are met.”
Although the Airbus Corporate evolution is ongoing, it’s clear the two divisions are being organised to work side-by-side, rather than as a merged unit. “The synergies are stronger in the sales, marketing and customer relations activities while, due to the innate differences between fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, technical aspects are more unique to each division. Personnel have not been exchanged, but shared best practice is increasing, to the point where employees of both increasingly feel they are part of the same team,” Lemos reports.
What is ACH?
The ACH label is applied to any aircraft from the Airbus Helicopters range completed and delivered as a corporate, VIP or VVIP machine, which may include government transports. A mix of bespoke finishing and packaged interiors is available.
“Stylence by ACH is our in-house, lightweight, sports car-inspired interior, which nonetheless allows for customisation, so long as airframe modifications are not required. The ACH175 Stylence, for example, may be customised for between 11 and 16 passengers.
“Then we have ACH Exclusive, our most sophisticated option, allowing a very high level of bespoke customisation and closely catering to customer requirements. It sits alongside ACH Editions, based on design concepts developed by world leading brands and designers. Including the ACH145 Mercedes Benz, Editions also provides the opportunity for the partner brand design team to provide unique levels of bespoke completion.
“We believe the ACH Exclusive and ACH Editions helicopters offer customers the highest quality, in a jet-like interior. The ACH175 Exclusive, equipped with the seven-seat VIP interior, has been described as the first helicopter offering a truly jet-like travel experience.
“We work closely with customers to help define their requirement. Our experience, combined with knowledge gained from working with leading designers, including Peder Eidsgaard, has helped redefine ACH standards. Today, we have a list of 2,000 items against which an ACH aircraft is quality checked, ensuring only the highest-quality materials and standards are used and met, in a process similar to that applied to corporate jets at the highest level.”
ACH in Service
Lemos reckons ACH has enjoyed a good first year, selling 58 aircraft and supporting customers even as its structure continues to gel and despite slightly depressed market. The ACH product is ideally placed to benefit from Airbus Helicopters’ global support network, including HCare First, an extended variation on the HCare service offering.
Speaking at Oxford, Lemos revealed that the ACH145 had taken a large share of the light-twin market and expects to deliver an ACH135 into the UK market imminently. Three VIP versions of the 7-tonne class ACH175 are already in service, with the initial example yacht-based.
Seating up to 18 passengers in its standard transport configuration, H175 is a large, complex aircraft that ought to pose even HCare First a challenge to support on a yacht. Lemos says of three more ACH175s on order, one will also be yacht based after delivery in 2019, but he reckons the aircraft’s designed-in features and performance are already an advantage for maritime operations.
“From the outset, the H175 was designed to serve the offshore oil and gas industry and is equipped for flight over water, helideck landings and to resist salt corrosion, as standard. We define the customer’s exact requirement at an early stage, based on their operational profile, then engage in every aspect of the design process.
“The ACH team works closely with the shipbuilder and customer, not least by providing key technical data to help integrate the aircraft on board and ensure its effective, safe operation within the relevant regulations. Additional, expert support is also provided by companies including MAST [Maritime Aviation Support & Training] and Luviair [a VIP helicopter and superyacht integration specialist].
“We also developed a dedicated app for designers and shipbuilders, providing basic helicopter information to support the early design concepts of the helideck; it’s a particularly useful tool for helping integrate the helicopter onto the yacht at an early design stage. Then, once the helicopter is in service, HCare First, our global support offering, ensures customers get approved Airbus Helicopters support wherever they are in the world, including at sea, all enabled by a global stock management system.”
There’s considerable excitement across the Airbus Helicopters organisation over the dramatic new H160, a new-technology aircraft seating up to 12 passengers in its standard transport version. Its distinctive, next-generation looks identify it as an obvious future favourite in the VIP market, although it faces stiff competition from well-established competitors.
Airbus has been cautious about taking order commitments while the aircraft was working towards certification, but with service entry planned for 2019, orders are now being confirmed. First H160 deliveries will be for offshore transport, but elements of the ACH160 have already been defined. Lemos explains: “The specification will include a custom, electrically-actuated cabin access step and electrically tinted windows, and improved soundproofing, in part achieved through hinged, rather than sliding doors. We’ve defined very comfortable VIP cabins based on a competition between designers; the result is a combination of ideas from ACH and Peder Eidsgaard, who previously worked on our ACH175 cabin.
“The ACH160 is already generating huge interest. Recent order commitments in North America and Brazil, ahead of certification, highlight the aircraft’s desirability within ACH’s market. Since the beginning of the year we’ve taken five orders for the ACH160 as it enhances our offering in the mid-size, twin-engine segment, challenging rival products, including the Sikorsky S-76 and Leonardo Helicopters AW139 and AW169, with a more than credible alternative. Converting a customer to a different manufacturer requires a compelling offer and we believe the ACH160 is precisely that.”