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Friday, June 1, 2012

Editor’s Notebook: Changing the Dynamic

By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief

aparker@accessintel.com

A week before heading to Fort Worth, Texas for AHS Forum 68 (from May 1-3), I figured I would receive a number of updates about the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative and rotorcraft science and technology (S&T) efforts for both the military and commercial industries. What I couldn’t predict was an unfolding story (see “Sikorsky President Jeff Pino to Retire”). Pino’s comments during the CEO panel (see related story) reinforced a much larger concept that resonated throughout the AHS Forum—the need to focus on the future now, generating ideas and money while finding ways to make designs more affordable, in terms of both acquisition and sustainment/lifecycle costs.

Considering the lackluster CEO Forum in February at Heli-Expo in Dallas (see “CEOs Miss Huge Opportunity at Forum," March 2012 Rotor & Wing), it was a revelation to see how vibrant and engaging the conversation was only three months later. More often than not, these kinds of leadership roundtables amount to a 10-minute promotional session from each executive.

The refreshing tone of the helicopter industry’s leadership talking about working together toward a common goal (Future Vertical Lift) seemed to elevate the conversation and the possibility for honest and realistic discussion.

Pino noted that he heard a “change in tone” at AHS. Keynote speaker Jose Gonzalez, director for land warfare and munitions, strategic and tactical systems for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, noted that the rotorcraft community is ahead of other defense and technological industries that he deals with, because of FVL and the S&T roadmap. “We have an industry that’s hungry, competitive, active—you’re self-investing and pushing innovation to its limits,” he said, describing an oncoming “train wreck… if we don’t do something now.” With proper investment in technology today, “we will be able to provide our leadership additional options,” Gonzalez added.

If you want to do something right, noted AgustaWestland’s James Wang, vice president of R&D, “spend the money out of your own pocket, with investment and people. Do it yourself. It’s more efficient.”

“It’s about affordability,” said Bell Helicopter President & CEO John Garrison, summing up the impetus of presentations from U.S. Army Aviation PEO Maj. Gen. William “Tim” Crosby and other military leaders at the forum. “We do provide incredible machines, but affordability is vitally important not only to our military customers, but also our commercial customers. Those that compete in the commercial sector can tell you just how aggressive that market is, and so as an industry, as a technology group driving affordability and technology … it’s incredibly important.”

Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling said that the helicopter industry has a “dramatic change” in front of it. He noted shifting trends toward Asian and other emerging markets, and the global balance between military and civil. “Of course, the U.S. military market is still dominant, with 60 percent of the value, but if you look at the forecasts, the world military market and the world civil market will be of equal size somewhere in the next decade.” As a result, the “center of gravity will move” and there will be more new entrants.

“In five years, this table needs to be longer,” Bertling continued. “There will be someone from Russian Helicopters sitting here, AVIC [based in China], there might be Koreans sitting here—Korea has declared the aerospace industry as their next strategic industry.” Pino agreed. “Lutz, I think you’re right—commercial, in many cases, will lead military—which certainly is 180 degrees from what this industry used to look like.”

The significance of Pino’s pending exit from Sikorsky coming days after an engineering and technology conference shouldn’t be lost in the details. Along with his leadership team and the 17,000 employees at Sikorsky, Pino with the X2 (and their counterparts at Eurocopter with the X3) has pushed innovation in ways that, some argue, already changed the discussion. Perhaps the timing is just coincidence, but was the AHS Forum Pino’s curtain call, his final trumpet blast to tell the helicopter industry to wake up and research the future?

“When we do it ourselves, we don’t have to throw 900 engineers and approval sequences in the process,” he pointed out. “And we can do it, I believe, in half the time, and a third of the cost.” (Pino quoted a figure of “about a quarter of the cost and time” during Heli-Expo in February, but the point is private industry can develop things cheaper and faster.)

“I think we can lead our governments into a revolutionary future, instead of waiting for them to fund it,” he said. “This change of tone that I hear, I hope that it changes the dynamic,” Pino remarked.

Note: A source told R&W on April 27 about Pino’s pending retirement. On April 30, a Sikorsky representative responded to an inquiry about Pino by saying it was “business as usual” at the company. The AHS Forum took place from May 1-3, with the CEO Forum on May 1. Sikorsky parent company United Technologies Corp. (UTC) announced the appointment of Mick Maurer on May 7. Two days later, a company representative indicated that a number of people at Sikorsky found out about the retirement on or shortly before May 7.

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