In the first of a new series of interviews, we spoke to Guillaume Faury, President and CEO of Airbus Helicopters, about his thoughts on the rotorcraft sector.
Q: What do you believe the main opportunities are for the rotorcraft sector over the next 5 years?
GF: The main opportunities in our industry will come from having the right product to offer customers and the flexibility to adapt to these changing times. We are a leading helicopter company and are proving to be resilient in a difficult market environment that will continue in the short term, and this is also something that I see as an opportunity. We are prepared to come out on the other side stronger and in a more stable position for the future. Our transformation is allowing us to focus on a need for speed in our industrial capabilities and our development phases, we are increasing the quality of our products and focusing on customer satisfaction, quality, safety and competitiveness. We have seen a strong market response for our new products (H175, H145), while our product renewal strategy meets the future operational needs of our customers and is progressing well with the H175, H160 and X6.
Q: How long do you think it will take for helicopter operations in the oil & gas sector to recover to pre-decline levels?
GF: As we have said in the past, we keep looking for that crystal ball that will tell us exactly when the O&G market will pick back up again, but we have not yet been able to find it! It is a cyclical market, which has a history of experiencing ups and downs. We are prepared to face a challenging environment for 2016-2017, with a recovery in the 2019-2020 time frame. Despite the current environment, we must not forget that nearly 75% of the total oil and gas helicopter fleet is in service for oil production, which is continuing despite the price drop. We continue to support these operations.
We see these changes and evolution of the market as creating new opportunities, because we are able to provide flexible solutions that will help our customers navigate these challenging times. We offer a large range of helicopters able to adapt to the current market – like the H225 – and we continue to shape the future of this market with the highly cost-effective and performing H175 and the H160 for the years to come.
Q: What are the main threats to helicopter OEMs over the coming year?
GF: I think the biggest threat to an OEM right now would be resistance to change.
Q: Do you view UAVs as a threat to traditional helicopter operations?
GF: The use of UAVs is something that is complementary to traditional helicopter operations and even in the long run would not substitute a replacement. UAVs provide an interesting solution for missions that need to be operated in a very hostile or even dangerous environment, where it would be unsafe to put a pilot. They can offer exploration in harder to reach places. As the leading helicopter manufacturer, it is only natural for Airbus Helicopters to explore development opportunities in the field of rotary-wing unmanned aerial systems – keeping in mind that there will always be a need for the critical thinking, expertise and maneuverability that a pilot in a helicopter can provide.