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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Russian Helicopters CEO: Steady Global Growth

By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief

Ka-52 Alligator. While Russian Helicopters is expanding globally in civil markets, the manufacturer’s military variants continue to draw international attention. Photos by Russian Helicopters

During a Feb. 13 interview at Heli-Expo, Russian Helicopters CEO Dmitry Petrov sat down with Rotor & Wing to discuss a number of topics, ranging from global expansion, emerging markets and training, to aftermarket support and R&D. The Moscow-based conglomerate is made up of a dozen subsidiaries, including Mil and Kamov, employing a total of around 40,000 people. 

Russian Helicopters CEO Dmitry Petrov.
When asked whether the company will compete with Sikorsky’s X2/S-97 Raider and Eurocopter’s X3, Petrov said Russian Helicopters has its own “vision” or approach to developing a high-speed rotorcraft design, known as the Advanced High-speed Helicopter. He explained that both Mil and Kamov are working on separate designs.

Mi-171 deliveries to Brazil started in early 2011.
“By the end of this year, based on the projects they’ve developed so far, we’ll select the best one in terms of advancement and feasibility, and we will continue basing our research and development on [the design that’s chosen].” Petrov added that, “we understand that within the next three, five to seven years, the market will not be ready to buy speed at a high price. According to this principle, we have chosen to be a bit more conservative.”

Petrov said that Russian Helicopters is keeping tabs on the civil rotorcraft market in China, as the government loosens commercial airspace restrictions. “We are very closely monitoring the situation because we’re aware of this opportunity. We’re keeping an eye on it.” He added that “we know roughly what our share of this market should be, but I’m not able to get into further details. But it is expected to be hundreds of new aircraft.”

As far as the military side, Russian Helicopters is “currently number one, and we’re going to retain this position on the market,” Petrov remarked, pointing to an “extensive order portfolio” from the Chinese Army. “For a number of years, these orders will keep coming in,” he continued.

Russian Helicopters is also active in supporting the rotorcraft needs of China’s public service operators, with Kamov Ka-32A11BC deliveries starting in 2011, in both SAR and firefighting configurations. “We started with some single contracts, but this year we signed a contract for 20 aircraft, to be delivered from 2013 to 2015,” Petrov noted. Russian Helicopters is also setting up an aftermarket support business under a joint venture with Chinese partners, and is in discussions about establishing an assembly plant in China. Support services are scheduled to start in 2013.

New passenger-transport version of the Mi-38 with Pratt & Whitney engines.
Petrov also discussed another emerging market—Latin America, which the company “started exploring two years ago.” Russian Helicopters began delivering the Ka-32A11BC and Mi-171A1 early in 2011, and late last year received Brazilian certification for the Ka-32A. “The Mi-171s will be operated by one of the companies working for Petrogras,” Petrov explained. “Other options and deliveries are expected in the near future.”

Operators in the region are also interested in “lighter aircraft,” he continued, “such as the Kamov Ka-226T and the Mi-34S1, and we’re currently in negotiations over the opportunity to start assembling these aircraft in Latin America.” He pointed to contracts in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela as examples of additional growth areas.

Petrov reports that the company’s group of 12 subsidiaries produced a total of 265 helicopters during 2011. “This year we will produce more than 300,” he explained, “so our sales and output will experience a steady level of growth of about 20 percent annually, in terms of both units and revenue.” He predicts that Russian Helicopters will “maintain the same pace in the coming years. Why I can be confident in saying this is we have an extensive and diversified firm order backlog,” including, on the military side, with the Russian Ministry of Defence through 2020.

“We’ve also experienced great sales in the domestic market—civil helicopters both for exports and for large commercial operators inside Russia.” As a result, the company’s sales are expected to reach 150 billion rubles (approximately $5 billion U.S.), he added.

Russian Helicopters is also examining the light singe-engine turbine market. “We’re studying this segment now, actually two sub-segments—2.5 and 4 tons,” Petrov said.

“We haven’t been present in this segment until now. At the same time we appreciate the risks in these segments are significantly high. In both sub-segments, new releases are expected soon from our competitors, including Sikorsky, AgustaWestland and Eurocopter.”

In order to achieve success in the light segment, he continued, “we will have to be very careful and thorough while calculated from the very beginning. Once we feel that we should have a helicopter in both of these segments—or in one of them—we’ll look at all the aspects to come up with a balanced and frugal, fiscal decision.”

Russian Helicopters is expanding its aftermarket support network as well. “We are establishing training schools at service centers and representative offices around the world, including China and Latin America,” Petrov explained. “We’ve prepared some programs for training both the pilots and technicians. They’re cutting-edge, actually, and we will be offering training syllabi through the operators and our customers.” The manufacturer is also working to establish the Training Helicopter Academy near Moscow. The academy “will be scaled up to a large training center, with full-scale flight testing grounds, simulators approved to Level D/Stage 7, and a highly qualified pool of training instructors,” Petrov noted. “We’ve already started teaching and educating there, by 2015 we’ll reach the full output of flight and technical training.”

Promoting flight safety and reducing accidents is an important part of the company’s objectives, according to the CEO, who remarked that Russian Helicopters has worked to annually reduce the rate of accidents per number of units produced. “This is due to the continuous increase of the quality of our product. We are publishing the service bulletins that are obligatory to increase safety of operation and flight performance,” he said.

Petrov also pointed out that similar to fixed-wing operations, “up to 95 percent [of helicopter accidents] are due to human factors, or pilot error. Especially with our newer models, our operators are working on decreasing the influence of human factors on the safety of flight.”

Among the safety equipment the manufacturer is pursuing for the Advanced High-speed Helicopter and some of its newer variants is an enhanced vision system (EVS). Russian Helicopters is increasingly teaming with avionics and engine OEMs to develop new systems for its aircraft. “There used to be times when about 100 percent of the components for our aircraft were produced in Russia, but now we are working on expanding our global operation,” Petrov said. “With the newer models we’ll be producing in 2015, the share of international-produced components will increase, and we will also increase our participation with global corporations.”

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