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A Future of Promise

Airbus Helicopters. It is not by our claim that the brand is a giant of its field. It is simply a fact and when any brand makes the decision to introduce an exclusive division, it also usually means that there is solid stability and exponential growth on the cards of the said marque. As far back as three years ago in 2014, cumulative reports indicated that more than 12,000 Airbus Helicopters were in service with more than 3,000 customers across 150 countries. When you factor in that the world has 195 countries, it means that Airbus Helicopters has a 78% presence across the vast terrains of our planet. These numbers have definitely grown through time and there is no use wasting time to prove the point even further that the rotorcraft division of Airbus is flourishing. With such a big chunk of the aviation market between its rotors, it comes as no surprise that Airbus Helicopters recently debuted its specialised helicopter division called ‘Airbus Corporate Helicopters’ (ACH). What’s more interesting, is that its Malaysian chapter, is up and running and ready for orders as the aviation giants have decided to take things to greater  heights. In light of this new development, we met up with three gentlemen from Airbus Helicopters to learn more about this new and dedicated arm of the helicopter specialists.

While Airbus SE as a whole has been around for almost half a century (founded in 1970), this special helicopter arm is quite new, at least in terms of branding. To be politically correct though, there is a long history behind  Airbus Helicopters, beginning with the foundation of Eurocopter in 1992. Just over two decades after its many change of corporate hands, Eurocopter was successfully rebranded and reintroduced as Airbus Helicopters in 2014. So, on paper, the name might be new, but the history of this specialised division spans more than half of Airbus SE’s existence. Despite the adverse market conditions, the rotorcraft arm of Airbus experienced an overall revenue at 6.9 billion Euros by year end, with 383 helicopters sold, including 49 H135, 54 H145 and 36 H175. And just recently as well, the company also launched a very futuristic helicopter, the H160, billed as the most advanced composite helicopter in its class. The H160 will do the honours of being the first product to debut under the Airbus Helicopters corporate identity and the new numbering “H” designation system. The 5.5- to 6-ton-class rotorcraft’s nose-to-tail breakthroughs in design and systems certainly exemplifies the Airbus Helicopter overall direction for the future, and it wants to take its customers into the bright future with it,with a keen focus on function and operational safety.

Just like its sibling arm, Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ), ACH is seen as the luxury arm of the European multinational company’s helicopter division. The company is quite vocal on the main reason for the establishing of this new arm and have it placed down to how a growing number of operators and customers have gone on to customise and re-model their Airbus rotorcraft with such detail, that it was time for a specialised unit to take on the task, hence the formation of ACH. More than that, it further refines and funnels the brand’s aim to cater for specialised VIP and Tourism missions, a bountiful area especially in a place like Malaysia and Southeast Asia as well.

Officially launched on the 22nd of May this year in Geneva at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE), ACH’s official mission is to continue the company’s leadership in the Private and Business Aviation market, to offer a unique level of quality finish, craftsmanship and bespoke services. Some of you might already know how Airbus Helicopters have done certain special collaborations with other brands in this respect, such as Mercedes-Benz, with the ACH145 Mercedes-Benz Style model not too long ago. All this being established, we were invited a couple of weeks back to Airbus Helicopters’ Malaysian headquarters recently to discuss the plans and goals that ACH harbours and how it plans to service Asia, especially Southeast Asia and Malaysia in terms of VIP/Corporate and Tourism missions. 

From left: Xavier Vautrin, Marketing Manager, Global Business-EBR, Guillaume Dubreuil, Vice President of Sales, Airbus Helicopters Malaysia and Benoit Terral, Civil Missions Specialist, Airbus Helicopters Operational Marketing.
“The main issue with the VIP market here in Malaysia would be with its affinity for twin engine rotorcraft. It is the benchmark here. While something like the H130 single engine helicopter performs extremely well in other parts of the world, here single engines are viewed to be less safe than a twin-engine. Our goal is to not only service this twin engine demand but to also educate the Malaysian market on the various uses of a single engine especially in the VIP, corporate and tourism transport sector and to also enforce the fact that a single engine is just as safe as a twin engine,” said Guillaume Dubreuil, Vice President of Sales, Airbus Helicopters Malaysia as we kicked off our discussion. He went on to add that Airbus Helicopters Malaysia wants to educate its intended market that single engine rotorcraft, such as its H130, are just as safe, reliable and not to mention, “three-times” cheaper as compared to larger and bigger twin engines. This low-entry ticket is something he believes that many portions of the Malaysian market aren’t aware off, something that will prove to be a challenge but one that the aviation brand is definitely up for in terms of reaching out to its existing and potential customers.
“In our other markets closer to Malaysia, such as New Zealand or Philippines, it is not the VVIPs who shaped the market, but local businessmen and other VIPs, where the price of acquisition and operating costs are the usual factors in making a decision. This is why in these markets, our helicopters, such as the H120, H125 and H130, tend to get more attention.” – Dubreuil
Dubreuil was keen to impart on the reasons the Malaysian market has formed this reliance on twin-engine rotorcraft, besides other factors like weather and strict aviation regulations. From his point of view, it is simply down to how its appeal has been long utilised by the higher echelons of the Malaysian elite, namely members of Malaysian Royal families, government dignitaries and corporate companies, all of which have influenced the general opinion surrounding the helicopter market locally. These VVIPs somewhat define the general customer profile for Airbus Helicopters Malaysia, one that is not just discerning but also a market that has very specific wants and needs. 

Echoing the same sentiment from a more specific point of view, was Mr. Benoit Terral, a Civil Missions Specialist and also part of Airbus Helicopters Operational Marketing department. “When it comes to something like tourism transport, it (H130) is widely used because of the fact that it is a single engine. And the reason is simple: it has been designed for that. It has been designed based on the requirements and feedback we’ve gained over the years from our customers who operate in the tourism transport market,” said Benoit, who is based at Airbus Helicopters headquarters up in Marignane, Marseille Province, France. While he was down for the local and private introduction of the new  ACH160 the next day, we were fortunate to have the chance to gain the insights from an executive who gets a first-hand view of how Airbus Helicopters tackles this growing global need for a more varied helicopter product range, especially in the VIP and tourism market.

ACH has been formed to provide an exclusive platform from which customers can benefit from best in class products, tailored completion and service. As I mentioned before, it is to mirror the same role that of its successful sister-brand, Airbus Corporate Jets, by providing current and future customers an end-to-end exclusive ownership experience. This experience will range from advice helping customers to choose the right aircraft and design a bespoke style. Finally, customers will benefit throughout the period of ownership from a concierge-style support service which, in addition to ensuring the highest availability of the aircraft anywhere in the world, will help preserve the aircraft’s  resale value as a result of a dedicated care and support by the manufacturer. Representing the global voice of Airbus Corporate Helicopters was monsieur Xavier Vautrin, Marketing Manager, Global Business-EBR, who was present together with Dubreuil and Terral to expound on the unique functions that ACH will now play in the grand scheme of things for Airbus Helicopters. He then drew our attention to how ACH draws a lot of parallels to the luxury yachting scene, in terms of establishing its lifestyle aim. “In time to come, there will be luxury elements to the whole experience, things like mobile applications where customers can use to configure the designs of their Airbus Helicopter. This we believe will bring more to the VIP experience,” he added.

“ACH addresses our clients in a more specific way, as opposed to how Airbus Helicopters approaches its other customers from oil and gas companies or air ambulance operators only because ultra-high-net-worth individuals require a personalized experience. We are the first private mission manufacturer among other commercial aviation companies to provide this special VIP section.” – Xavier Vautrin.

It is an interesting thought to entertain though. Helicopters in general are the ideal complement to corporate and VIP customers due to the unique capabilities rotary wing aircraft bring, primarily in providing a point-to -point transport for business and corporate customers and an enhanced lifestyle for VIP customers, which are all geared to enabling said individuals to experience luxury travel between assets or even to remote, inaccessible locations. With this unique appeal and function of a helicopter at the core of things, ACH’s offering now will be supported by a bespoke service to help cater for the most demanding customer. With Airbus Helicopter already housing an impressive and wide range of civil helicopters in the form of the H130, H135, H145, H160 and H175, the strategy being used to accommodate varying requirements is available in three different product lines by ACH: ACH Line, ACH Exclusive and ACH Editions.

ACH Line is based on Airbus Corporate Helicopters’ in-house style concept. The main focus in this range is placed on the interior cabin, where various solutions (think clean lines and spare style) will be applied to be the perfect response for those looking for a light and efficient design. ACH Exclusive on the other hand will see its interior line responds to those looking for a truly exclusive environment where refinement, luxury and comfort will be at the core of the experience. Finally, ACH Editions will consist of a portfolio of Airbus Corporate Helicopters special collaborations and partnerships with luxury brands and designers, ranging from names like Hermes to Mercedes Benz and including designs by world-renown designers. One such designer for instance is Peder Eidsgaard, a highly sought after designer, famous for his firm’s work with many superyachts. Why the collaborations with a superyacht designer you might ask?

The three gentlemen share a light moment at the Airbus Helicopters hangar in Subang.

Save for the H175, because of its massive size, four out of the five helicopters mentioned above are already widely deployed by yacht owners around the world, all of which are equipped with the Airbus Fenestron (an Airbus patented shrouded tail rotor hub technology). The versatility and safety of each Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft for yacht-borneoperations have somewhat created a unique lifestyle combination, where helicopters and luxury yachts have continued to develop and grow together, hence the ACH’s strategy of working with a design house such as Peder Eidsgaard.

Another area in which ACH plans to serve more closely is in regards to is in aircraft availability, an increasingly important aspect to all its customers, especially to the VIP market where low annual use of the helicopter brings high expectations when the aircraft is required. To address this, ACH will introduce HCare First, a tailored version of Airbus Helicopters’ HCare, a comprehensive support package, which provides a concierge-style service providing support anywhere across the globe. Mr. Terral reinforced this: “For our kind of customers, networks are very important. They feel more confident when there is a wide working network that can support their acquisitions over time and this is something Airbus Helicopters has always placed an emphasis on, in providing our customers with a solid network and by this, real and true added value.”

We went on to discuss a lot more on the challenges and counter-measures that are already being deployed to face the stringent Malaysian regulations, an aspect that requires a lot of attention on the brand’s side. While those are some private and confidential points that cannot be published, we nonetheless understood clearly that Airbus Corporate Helicopters is an exciting prospect for all those who utilise helicopters frequently. As we wished the three Frenchmen well for a successful local introduction of the new ACH160 that was happening the day after, we couldn’t but help note the exciting times ahead and the amount of possibilities that the future holds for the discerning high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individual, especially here in Malaysia. Here is a specialised division that is an offshoot of one of the most prominent aerospace companies in the world, if not the best, and it is bringing something like Airbus Corporate Helicopters, along with its vast resources, skills and services, to an emerging market like Malaysia. It won’t be too long now before we see more of those famous Airbus Fenestrons high up in our Malaysian skies because let’s face it, there’s no better way to head into the promising future than to arrive in it in your own and unique Airbus Corporate Helicopter.

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