Airbus Helicopters continues its efforts together with Leonardo Helicopters to prepare for the possible launch of a next-generation European military helicopter by the end of this decade.
In the short term, however, the manufacturer is eyeing growth in the defense sector, where it believes new products will allow it to capture more market share.
Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even, speaking to investors during the aerospace group’s Capital Markets Day on September 23, said the planemaker will ensure that it is “ready by the end of the decade to launch a program if the need arises “.
Working together as part of a consortium, Airbus and Leonardo received a €40 million ($38.8 million) stake from the European Defense Fund in July for the Next Generation Rotorcraft Technology project, under which the company will provide the necessary technological building blocks mature” for any future development, says Even.
However, the US is already pursuing its Future Vertical Lift program, with a high-speed successor to the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk set to be selected in the coming months, potentially leaving the European industry to catch up.
But Even believes customer requirements may well differ from those in the US. “There is no reason to believe that the needs of European nations will be the same as those of the US, especially high speed.”
A parallel NATO initiative that could see the deployment of a new medium-class helicopter in 2035-2040 – the Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability (NGRC) – is currently in the concept phase. According to the requirements outlined last year, the platform should have a maximum cruising speed of 220 kt (407 km/h) or more and not less than 180 kt.
NGRC is led by four countries that consider Airbus and Leonardo home countries – France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, alongside Greece and the Netherlands.
While any future European program is a longer-term project, Even says the aircraft manufacturer’s immediate goal is to increase its share of the global military helicopter market beyond the current figure of 15%.
Even the H160M that Guepard is developing for France and the H175M that has been offered to Britain to replace the British Royal Air Force’s Puma fleet see a “direct contribution” to that goal.
Although Airbus Helicopters lags behind its US competitors in the military segment, the manufacturer captured a 55% share of the civilian market last year.
He even says he wants to “confirm” “our leadership position” in the civilian sector, but does not see it as necessary to further expand the overall market share, but to “strengthen” its share in the medium and super-medium segment, in particular with the arrival of the 6t -class H160 which entered service earlier this year.