HI Uplift: ACH drives towards a sustainable future
Five years after its launch, Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH) is continuing its drive towards sustainable growth – despite minor supply chain delays – Frederic Lemos, head of ACH, tells Helicopter Investor (HI). He means this both figuratively and literally.
The OEM is continuing to grow sales, many to first-time buyers, to invest in sustainable technologies and recently pledged to continue production of the ACH130 Aston Martin Edition, after nearly selling out its initial production. Within five years, three of which included the global pandemic, ACH has grown sales from 53 helicopters a year to a record 103 orders last year. In 2020, ACH sold 62 helicopters compared with 66 during the previous year.
“We’re not yet at the levels of 2018 and 2019 in particular,” says Lemos. “But the market has had a rebound and within that rebound, Airbus Corporate Helicopters has won a bigger market share, with a record year for us in 2021.” It’s an impressive list of helicopter sales, including: 38 ACH130, 30 ACH125, 13 ACH145, 11 ACH160, nine ACH135 and two ACH175 units. “The ACH130 is the star of the show,” he adds. Just shy of 200 corporate/VIP helicopters were sold in 2021, with ACH claiming about 68% of total sales, says the manufacturer.
ACH’s resilient sales partly reflect its customer base, according to Lemos. About 80% of clients are private individuals, with first time buyers making a significant impact on orders. “Private buyers do things differently from a company, which is very stable,” Lemos tells HI. “Individuals have many things happening in their lives – they sell their company or there’s an IPO [initial public offering]. And there are many new clients because many new companies and start-ups are growing very quickly. So, we see a big proportion of first-time buyers – generally between 30% to 50%.”
Sales in the intermediate single market segment, including 30 ACH125s and 38 ACH130s, were driven partly by owner pilots. They enjoy flying these aircraft which are “very friendly; very fun to operate”, he says.
A key factor driving new client sales is a growing appreciation of how a helicopter can benefit their lifestyle, their business and their safety, he adds. For Lemos, 90-minute helicopter journeys are ACH’s comfort zone. For shorter travel, clients will be tempted to take their car (perhaps an Aston Martin?). For longer journeys, many prefer jet travel.
This he attributes to potential customers’ recognition of ACH customer service increasingly spread by word-of-mouth. Nearly three-quarters (70%) of clients are based in US, Europe and Brazil. But other markets – such as India – are showing promising signs of growth.
Also, demand from the superyacht sector is steady, with ACH selling about seven to eight aircraft a year and accounting for nearly 70% of the market. Popular models remain the H135 light twin helicopter, with its small deck footprint, and the H145, equipped with a five-bladed rotor.
New buyers are often younger than existing clients, while customers of all ages are increasingly interested in sustainability. “There’s changing awareness [of sustainability topics] among clients who want more in terms of social responsibility – improving engines, fuel performance, sustainability and reduced noise,” says Lemos.
While aviation accounts for only 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions (and helicopters less than 1% of that total), there’s more that can be done, he says. One solution is lighter aircraft that consume less fuel. For example, the design and construction of the new medium twin ACH160 has led to 15% less fuel consumption than its direct competitors, he says. Also, it’s innovative blade design and shrouded tail rotor are said to result in 50% noise reduction. And, like all Airbus helicopters, it is certified to run on up to 52% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
Russia accounts for around 10% of sales and sanctions imposed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine have obviously had an impact this year. But Lemos expects orders elsewhere to compensate for those losses. Supply chain disruptions, caused by the global pandemic and compounded by the war, have contributed to longer production lead times, Lemos concedes.
Meanwhile, sales of the ACH130 Aston Martin Edition have exceeded expectations. This is a special version of the ACH130 featuring a range of interior and exterior designs created by Aston Martin, based on its luxury sports car favoured by a certain 007 agent by the name of James Bond.
ACH’s initial partnership with Aston Martin Lagonda covered an envisaged 15 sales and three years. But after 14 sales in just over two years, the manufacturer has decided to extend the partnership for a further 15 sales. Half of sales have been to Australasia, with New Zealand alone accounting for five bookings. “This partnership has been a real success, which has gone well beyond our early expectations,” says Lemos.
Driving (and flying) a good deal: Frederic Lemos, ACH, (left) is pictured with Cathal Loughnane, Aston Martin Partnerships.