Airbus Corporate Helicopters has enjoyed a great 12 months, capped off with first deliveries of the all-new ACH160. Frederic Lemos, Head of ACH, spoke with EVA
Speaking ahead of May’s EBACE show in Geneva, Frederic Lemos, Head of Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH) revealed: “I’m delighted that we’ve had another very strong year, which you’ll see from the sales figures we’ll release at EBACE. Orders are up and so is our market share. I think this reflects a perception in the sector that not only do we have a desirable offering, but we also clearly have special expertise in meeting the needs of this particular type of customer and providing them with a special experience.”
The ACH portfolio’s single-engined helicopters remain its bestsellers, a fact in which Lemos sees considerable significance. “It is encouraging because those customers include some new entrants who we hope will remain with us for years to come. In particular, the ACH130 is really hitting a sweet spot, and not only the ACH130 Aston Martin Edition.”
The tie-in with the iconic British sports car manufacturer resulted in a spectacular edition that has sold well. Lemos refuses to divulge details before EBACE but explains: “We’ve sold the initial 15 helicopters that we committed to at launch and we have now firmed up our plan to build another 15, which will be the full production run. The ACH130 Aston Martin Edition will therefore remain a limited edition helicopter, much valued by existing and new owners for years to come. We’ve taken orders from customers in Europe, Canada, the US, Latin America, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.”
Customers taking aircraft from the second ACH130 Aston Martin Edition production batch will select from an expanded range of options. Lemos again: “The new colours reflect the latest thinking of Aston Martin’s design team for their ultra-luxury cars. There are three interior colours with a muted, classic feel but which at the same time are rather striking – Bitter Chocolate, Forest Green and Dark Knight, which is a grey.
“And there are three eye-catching external schemes – Verdant Jade, Liquid Crimson and Apex Grey – all matched with silver and each highly distinctive. We’ve also introduced quilted detailing in the central seat back and seat pan, bringing a strong automotive feel. And if a customer prefers, the original launch options are still available.”
It is perhaps not surprising that promotional apparel and accessories associated with the ACH130 Aston Martin Edition have been made, although not as a commercial offer. Lemos confirms that as ACH and the carmaker had hoped, some helicopter sales have been to Aston Martin car owners, although he notes that no purchasers have yet committed to taking both simultaneously. Considering the helicopter’s success though, he says: “Clearly the attributes of the ACH130 in terms of its lean profile and agile performance are highly attractive to the kind of individuals who enjoy driving luxury sports cars.”
Favourite light twin
Itself subject to an automotive special edition, the ACH145 remains, Lemos states, the market’s preferred light twin-engined helicopter. The ACH145 Mercedes-Benz Style was released some time ago and is still available on the latest five-bladed version of the helicopter.
Lemos has previously hinted at a possible revamp for the Mercedes-Benz Style and reveals: “We have been working in a very focused way with our partner on a facelift that we will show to the market in due course. The effort has progressed in parallel with the introduction of the five-bladed helicopter and so it has taken a little while to finesse the design. The Mercedes-Benz Style has been highly successful so far and I’m confident that we will again create something very elegant that will encapsulate our partner’s design philosophy and our own.”
While ACH’s single- and light twin-engined helicopters are among its most familiar products, the distinctive new ACH160 is now also flying with customers. “It’s particularly pleasing to see the ACH160 market developing in a serious way, globally,” Lemos enthuses.
“The first European ACH160 has been delivered, in ACH160 Exclusive configuration, and it is operating in Switzerland. The first for a UK customer will enter service in the coming months, after undergoing completion at our London Oxford Airport facility. We expect Oxford to have a continuing role supporting the ACH160 as the fleet develops. It already offers pilot and engineer type training and will grow its expertise to offer complete support for the new product.”
There can be no denying that the ACH160 looks good – and there is an old aviation adage suggesting that ‘if an aircraft looks right, it flies right’. Is that what Lemos is hearing from the initial ACH160 customers? “For sure it is very early days, only a few months since the first ACH160 was delivered in Brazil last year, while the first European and Middle Eastern helicopters were handed over even more recently. Customers are naturally coming back to us with a variety of queries as they broaden their experience with the aircraft, but they are essentially enjoying flying it and flying in it. The ACH160 truly sets new standards from both the pilot and passenger perspectives and the feedback is pretty positive as a result.”
Keeping on top
With its market share in some categories increasing, a new special edition available and another on the way, plus an all-new helicopter just now entering service, ACH is at the top of its game. Lemos has confidence in the portfolio and ACH’s robust offer, but is by no means complacent.
“We pride ourselves on being able to meet the most demanding customer requests in terms of cabin specification and that is a key element in how we are perceived. On top of that, all the ACH range can be fitted with the extensive Airbus catalogue of options and kits available for other variants of the same helicopter. In the case of cold weather operations, that might include a second battery for example, or a fuel filter to guard against ice particles. In other cases, a customer might want floats and related equipment fitted to suit their operating environment.
“Whatever the case, our focus remains constant: Be the most exclusive helicopter brand by delivering exceptional end-to-end experience and distinctive products while embedding Airbus values – Customer Focus, Integrity, Respect, Creativity, Reliability and Teamwork – sustainably, in all we do. It means we constantly work to improve everything, from engineering to customer care to delivering even more value to our customers.”