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AIRBUS HELICOPTESR UK – POWERING AHEAD By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

AIRBUS_D&S_Flat_CMYK26 Feb 15. Based at Oxford Airport, Airbus Helicopter UK is a relatively unsung hero within the Airbus Group and yet to see the operation and the high level of support that the company provides to operators of Airbus Helicopters in the UK really is eye opening.

Airbus Helicopter UK provides high-quality products and services for all helicopter markets. Engaging in a range of activities including sales and marketing, design, development, customisation, final completion to end customer specification, flight testing, certification, training of pilots and technicians this is no small operation. The company provides full technical support, maintenance, repair and overhaul, retrofit, upgrades, spares and logistical support.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Oxford Airport based facilities of Airbus Helicopter to see for myself the range of helicopter support offered including that for the military, police, civil and oil and gas markets. Police helicopter surveillance is a hugely important aspect of Airbus Helicopter UK work and I note today that a report published in Vertical magazine  suggests that the UK National Police Air Service (NPAS) plans to close 10 of its bases and move to a 15 base model caught my eye.

According to the journal, NPAS will in future operate on a fleet based on 19 rotary aircraft. While any reduction in size of the NPAS base operation is based on cost of operation an important point here is that the NPAS fleet will in future be based on 100% use of Airbus helicopters. The base reduction will clearly make NPAS more efficient and it will also help Airbus Helicopter to provide even better value in terms of delivery of spares and maintenance support.

There may be another interesting link with this change and that of the plan for future military rotary based training. For example, high use, high availability service provision required by NPAS is fundamental to the delivery requirement to whoever wins the next stage of the MFTS rotary training programme. The point to make in respect of Airbus Helicopter would be that a programme such as this is not just about selling a helicopter to the military user it is also about ensuring that a regular and fixed number of helicopters are ready to fly each morning. I will come back to this matter at a later date.

The military is an important aspect of Airbus Helicopter product, training and thorough life support. Airbus Helicopter has been very active for many years supporting the 40 plus Puma helicopters in service with the Royal Air Force service and that have provided excellent support to UK military and allied ground forces in operations including Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland and other conflict areas.

In 2007 Airbus Helicopter decided to create an on-shore defence capability in the UK that would be better able to support the Puma helicopters and to explore additional UK market potential. A primary reason behind this move was also to provide the Ministry of Defence with access to alternative design and industrial solutions that could deliver an increased level of choice.

This move also coincided with a requirement to conduct a major life extension and upgrade programme to the existing fleet of Roya Air Force Puma helicopters by the MOD. Known as Puma 2, the upgrade programme is all but complete with most aircraft delivered in their massively upgraded form. Airbus Helicopter UK will also provide the early years of support of the Puma 2 fleet and it has I believe also been responsible for coordinating design responsibility and training of the Royal Air Force flying instructors who are currently engaged in training front-line crews. In addition Airbus UK will provide through-life support to meet the MoD’s evolving requirements.

Work on the Royal Air Force Puma Fleet Life Extension Programme was undertaken at Airbus Helicopter sites in Romania, France and finally, ahead of final delivery, here in the UK. The upgrade included engines, airframe plus navigation and communications equipment. The upgrade work done will allow the upgraded aircraft to remain in operational service to at least 2025.

Puma 2’s now much enhanced lift performance in demanding environmental conditions, coupled with a small footprint make the helicopter ideal for rapid world-wide deployment on contingency tasks and for those in urban operations. Deliveries of the fleet of 24 are now believed to be all but complete. My understanding is that Royal Air Force Puma 2 has now obtained an IOC (Initial Operation Capability) from the Military Aviation Authority ad that this has been granted on the basis of the aircraft having met very demanding standards required ahead of schedule. It is also my understanding that Puma 2 capability will soon be sent to Afghanistan to support the small contingent of UK forces that will remain for some time and that will release Chinook aircraft that have been retained for that role until now.

In civil Airbus helicopter enjoys a 75% share of the UK’s police and emergency medical services market. Indeed, the company provides the majority of UK national resilience rotary-wing aircraft capacity and capability. The existing fleet of EC135s and EC145s helicopters provide a wide range of missions from search and surveillance, crime detection and prevention, air ambulance and airlift facilities across the United Kingdom.  Other uses in which the EC135 and 145 aircraft are used include working in support of utility companies including gas, electricity, off-shore wind farm, water, forestry and agricultural support. There is also in addition a sizable use of these aircraft in a private and VIP role capacity. Future uses could be expected to also include fire and rescue.

Airbus Helicopter UK also maintain an operation at Aberdeen covering the North Sea oil and gas market. The UK operation provides state-of-the-art technical and logistical support services, maintenance support and simulator training. Airbus Helicopters involved in North Sea operation include Super Puma. EC225 and Dauphin. Around 100 of these aircraft are thought to be operating in this area alone flying at a rate of approximately 1000,000 hours per year.

The Oxford facility itself provides one of the largest FAA and EASA 145 approved maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities in the world for servicing and supporting of Airbus Helicopter products. It is both modern and extremely impressive. Fixed hourly rate services tailored to ensure continuous operation of Airbus helicopters used in national resilience, emergency services, private, business, corporate and VIP are offered to customers. Safety and flexibility of service support requirement are crucial components of the various packages of support offered to customers. The bottom line is to increase helicopter availability and minimise both downtime and cost of operation.

Logistical support is provided in the form of providing a dedicated hub for parts supply that is in operation 365 days a year 24 hours x 7. In terms of technical support in the UK the company is available to provide all levels of support. Finally, in terms of simulator based training, the company provides a large number of synthetic based courses for students throughout the year.

hwheeldon@wheeldonstrategic.com

chwheeldon@yahoo.co.uk

Tel:  07710 779785

 

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