Airbus Sees Transformation in Economics of Helicopter Flight Written 19 June 2019
By Hannah Godofsky, AIAA Communications
AIAA AVIATION FORUM, Dallas, June 19, 2019 — Engineers often think about product strategy in terms of specifications or capabilities, but Chris Emerson, president of Airbus Helicopters, said during the “The Reality of a Vertical Dream” session here that he believes the biggest driver of change for their product will be economics.
Emerson said that when he took over at Airbus Helicopters in 2015, the market for helicopters had fallen by 70% — a crisis for the business — and that he was forced to think about how to adjust the company for the downturn. He said he did not want to have to lay off employees and that he had to consider a change in strategy, finding new customers and new efficiencies for helicopters instead of relying on the traditional markets.
Emerson estimated that today, 40% of helicopter customers are people who want to save time in congested ground traffic, instead of the traditional customer base that has leaned more toward rescue or industrial uses. But, he suggested, helicopters could be a more disposable asset in the future because of economic incentives.
“Maybe we don’t need a time between overhaul like we do today of say, 600 or 2,000 hours,” he said. “Maybe you totally eliminate the time between overhauls, and you make it disposable. … If you have an urban air environment, do you want to have major inspections where the aircraft are all grounded? Or do you just say, when it hits that, it goes in, you harvest the parts that can be harvested, and you recycle the rest? As you all know, that changes the dynamics in the development phase.”
The concept is similar to how investors have found fortune in e-scooters, though Emerson emphasized that he did not foresee waste and that everything that can be recycled will be made into a new helicopter.