Airbus Helicopters posted a 40 percent order increase in 2021 over 2020, but a considerable portion of that was driven by public sector stimulus, and CEO Bruno Even warned that it would be two to three years before order volume recovered to pre-pandemic levels. He added that the offshore energy market remains largely stalled for both super-medium and heavy helicopters and “will take time to recover.” Nevertheless, Even characterized 2021 as a “turning point” and said the company would onboard 500 new employees in 2022, mainly in engineering to support military programs. “We’re seeing the first signs of recovery” and “the end of the low point,” he said Wednesday morning.
During 2021, Airbus delivered 338 helicopters, compared with 300 in 2020. For the year, Airbus calculated its share of the civil and parapublic helicopter market at 52 percent. Airbus booked 414 new net orders (419 gross) in 2021, compared with 268 in 2020, but a good deal of that was driven by public sector orders throughout European countries where the company has operations: France ordered 40 H160 medium twins (civil and military versions), eight H225M heavies, and two H145 light twins; Spain ordered 36 H135 light twins, and Germany bought eight H145s for the Bavarian police.
For the year, Airbus booked strong orders for long-time legacy singles and light twins including 147 H125s, 48 H130s, 65 H135s, and 93 H145s. Even said a good portion of these orders were from established customers, particularly in the air ambulance sector, seeking existing fleet replacement. Orders for the new H160 medium twin clocked 52, but 40 of those were from various arms of the French government. Even said he expected the H160 to do well in the U.S. once the model receives FAA type certificate verification later this year. The company recently delivered the first H160 to Japan’s All Nippon Helicopter.
Airbus booked just four orders for the super-medium H175 twin and 10 for the heavy Super Puma twin, mostly to military customers. Even characterized the sluggish demand for the H175 as “more of a market challenge” than a reflection on the helicopter itself. He expressed optimism that the UK military would select a militarized variant, the H175M, as a replacement for its aging fleet of Super Pumas.
Even said, to date, Airbus had not been materially impacted by the tight U.S. labor market at its Columbus, Mississippi assembly plant nor had seen significant disruptions from global supply chain issues. “So far we have not been impacted,” he said. But he did admit to a tight talent market in Europe, specifically, engineers to support the Tiger Mark III military attack helicopter program.
Airbus is methodically continuing development of the next generation of its “City Airbus” eVTOL aircraft, with first flight now predicted for 2023. “We want to be the voice of reason” when it comes to advanced air mobility. Even said. “There will be a time when we are in a position to commit [to the eVTOL market], but we are not there yet. We like to do what we say and say what we do.” Even said battery technology and associated advanced air mobility infrastructure and traffic management needed further maturation for a realistic market to take hold. He sees battery technology advancing to that point by 2025. But when eVTOLs do enter commercial service, he views them as “complementary” as opposed to competitive, to helicopter service.
Meanwhile, he said, Airbus will continue research of hybridization technology for its conventional helicopters.