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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sitting Down with Sikorsky President Mick Maurer: The Paris Interview

On the eve of the Paris Air Show, it has become tradition for Andrew Drwiega to interview the president of Sikorsky Aircraft along the lines of a “state of the union” conversation. This began with Jeff Pino several years ago and has now been continued by his successor, Mick Maurer, who has now been in the post over a year since his appointment on July 1, 2012.Rotor & Wing International Bureau Chief Andrew Drwiega (left) questions Sikorsky Aircraft President Mick Maurer during the 2013 Paris Air Show. Canadian Forces CH-148 Cyclone. Sikorsky

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief

Rotor & Wing: Mick, thanks for continuing this traditional get together. Let’s start on a global level with a perspective on China, a country with massive potential for business. What is Sikorsky’s position and ambition there?

Mick Maurer: Our strategy, not just in Sikorsky, but United Technologies Corp. (UTC) in general, is to be out in the important [world] markets to operate as a local company. Some day the Chinese will free up airspace, no-one knows exactly when, but we want to be on the ground when that happens.

Aviation Industry Corporation of China is an equity stakeholder in Shanghai Sikorsky [which was established in 2003] but it is just one piece of our overall relationship with AVIC. They produce part of the S-92 as well as the entire S-76 airframe in Jingdezhen. We have also transferred responsibility for the supply chain for the parts, although we helping by ensuring that the parts are ready for the airframe assembly procedure. We are working on the proposition for them to become engaged in high-level supply chain/logistics management.

Rotor & Wing: Keeping with UTC and your position as one of the corporation’s executive leaders, how does information and policy from and between the group and individual member organization?

Maurer: Most of the relationship is based on a standardized process that doesn’t usually affect individual companies such as directing the way in which we operate, but we do try to achieve commonality. In terms of a decision regarding customers, the corporate leaves that to the business unit. But we try to take advantage of synergies across the group. Any big investment will be coordinated within UTC.

Rotor & Wing: How does Mick Mauer fit into the UTC organization?

Maurer: I worked in Otis Elevator Company [part of UTC since 1976] for 10 years before coming to Sikorsky. I spent a lot of time in China and other parts of Asia. The aerospace world is different from the industrial world in terms of what we are allowed to do; we both have technically intensive products. I was heavily involved in elevator moderators. That is a system that frankly was more advanced in terms of timing and how far they were using its potential than HUMS was in aerospace. We were using the diagnostic data off elevator systems to coordinate field maintenance and to help predict breakdowns. If you have a portfolio of one million elevators, then those diagnostic results are going to be very useful in terms of minimizing downtime. Your building [especially tall ones] has very little value if your elevators are consistently not working.

Rotor & Wing: The last time we met at the CEO Forum during the AHS International annual gathering (in Phoenix), you were discussing the challenge of timelines from concept to delivery of products. Can you expand on that?

Maurer: I don’t have a magic bullet for shortening timelines because so much [of relevance to this] is not quantitative product development stuff. If you have a well-defined requirement and you can set a direction, it is much easier to keep pace. Funding has been challenging: in the past you get partway through the program and [the customer] says “we need to change this or that,” which always slowed the process. I think the tools that we have now are enabling us to do things a little quicker than we did in the past. But a change in approach is making a difference.

Take the Presidential helicopter replacement program [VXX]. The [actual build] process may not go much faster, but the way in which it is defined now should lead to a faster process. They [NAVAIR] are saying “give us something that is already certified” – like the S-92, with half a million hours already flown, with FAA certification – then take the mission systems and integrate that onto the vehicle where you have the space and weight allowance. If you look at the VXX this time around I think it has been put together in a way that should allow it to go quicker and with less risk. I think they have learned from last time around.

Rotor & Wing: How does this translate to an existing program, such as the CH-53K for the U.S. Marines?

Maurer: On the CH-53K, we established the program two or three years ago and agreed on a set of operating rules. Anytime the customer asks us for anything outside the basic agreement we will raise it to a review board where the answer could be: no, never; or, not now but will introduce it in a Block in X years; or, yes, it’s a great idea and we have the money. But we negotiate that up front. Initially some of the people at the customers thought we were saying no, instead of ‘no, but..’ We now recognize that we both can’t let the program turn into anything more than what is agreed. It is due to that process that we are staying on timeline and budget, not because of new technology or anything else. And we have a great relationship with our customer.

Rotor & Wing: What is your opinion of sequestration?

Maurer: We have ended up with a blunt instrument to try and solve a problem, although I am not sure it is even doing that.

Rotor & Wing: Where are you currently on the much delayed CH-148 Cyclone program for the Canadian Forces (the military variant of the S-92)?

Maurer: The Canadian Cyclone program itself is going pretty well and the aircraft is performing well – we have gone through much of the flight test [with the new engine]. The issue for a while now is that the contract conditions include having everything done. But we have reached a point where everything is done relating to the hardware, the air vehicle and the software that flies it. Everything is not done when it comes to the mission equipment, and that has been the case for a while. What we are trying to do is renegotiate the contract to match the program and allow us to move forward with a phased approach. This is happening with JSF and other aviation programs, and we have done it elsewhere such as with the CH-53K. The aircraft has certain capability and software drops over time.

In the last year or so we have been operating with that assumption, so that although we have contractual difficulties it hasn’t affected where we have gone with the program, so while it is frustrating to us as we would like the negotiations to go faster, in the last year we have made a much progress with the aircraft. We have four of them sitting up in Shearwater Nova Scotia ready to go into the operation test and evaluation – I was up there last week. That local squadron is also anxious to move on with their training.

There are two groups that we negotiate with, the Department of National Defense and then Public Works. We have a strong alignment with National Defense, but we need to get more alignment with Public Works. The ultimate goal for everyone is to replace the Sea Kings. If we adhere to the contract as it stands we will deliver lots of aircraft all at once when everything is done, including the mission software [but that will take a lot more time].

Rotor & Wing International Bureau Chief Andrew Drwiega (left) questions Sikorsky
Aircraft President Mick Maurer during the 2013 Paris Air Show.

What we would rather do is start training [crews] now and operational testing soon and as we increase the capability of the mission equipment software. The Canadian Forces will have already tested earlier versions and incrementally less and less will be required so then when we are done the testing, the mission equipment will be virtually done too. That would allow us to replace the Sea Kings around a couple of years earlier than is currently planned. We want to make it official and have a contract that says say, that the 70 percent version that comes out later this year, then you they get the 90 percent version, then the 100 percent version.

The level of complexity within our Canadian customer has been different to the norm; “the buck” doesn’t stop in one place. With most customers we can go to the program office and get a decision if there has to be a change. In this case there are two offices – so politically this is charged. Everyone just wants to do the renegotiation one time, but there are political as well as programmatic aspects under consideration. So we still have to work through that.

Rotor & Wing: And what future do you see for the wind-down of other S-61s worldwide? We still have the potential to deliver up to 110 to the U.S. State Department?

Maurer: Well that is an IDIQ [indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity], so it is not a firm order. But that is another where there is plenty of uncertainty as what is going to happen, particularly in the light of sequestration. As it is with the State Department there are still a number of questions over their role as we exit places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

We see some interest in a second hand S-61 market. In terms of naval I don’t see us getting involved, but using that airframe in a civil role, peacekeeping type of role. We still have a fair number of S-61 customers (including the U.S. President for the moment). It is out of production but we will see where the S-61T goes. The wild card is that the ones that are being retired are typically not the best ones, but even the best are decades old and that shows when you starting taking them apart.

Type your caption hCanadian Forces CH-148
Cyclone. ere.
Rotor & Wing: The Joint Multi-Role (JMR) competition leading to Future Vertical Lift (medium) is the “elephant in the corner” in terms of future rotary wing development for the next 30 years. Did it surprise you that Eurocopter pulled out and how is the relationship with Boeing coming along?

Maurer: Yes, Eurocopter’s withdrawal was surprising. I had heard that the cost share was an issue. To us it is the biggest program in the history of rotorcraft so how can we not play? As for our relationship with Boeing, it has gone better than expected and the working relationship is outstanding. We have both assigned some of our best people onto the program. We are the smartest helicopter company in the world – and so are they [he joked] – so to put us both in a room, they have already come up with ways to make the JMR better. Don’t think for a minute that because it is X2 based in is only Sikorsky, there is much more going on that Boeing is contributing to such as the airframe. We are both party to some U.S. Army technology programs that we are looking to leverage.

In Phase 1 we are the prime, but the legal/contractual relationship is being drawn up by the idea is not a prime/sub relationship for either party. It will be joint – our teams focused on the offer first, now we are sorting out the details.

Rotor & Wing: Finally, how is data management perceived by customers as being useful to their business?

Maurer: Oil and commercial companies are passionate about this subject – they totally get it. They want to use the data for all kinds of reasons. From a diagnostic point of view can we see patterns in part cycles. We have used data to extend lifetimes. They look to learn from all the data – even from parts that are not in exceeding their parameters. We can recommend that the tail bearing on that helicopter in this fleet needs replacing so that you keep running and don’t have an unscheduled shut down. And when you do that over time you can lower the operating cost. The issue is avoiding unplanned repairs. But they are also saying: “What can I learn from the normal data that isn’t in exceedance – sometimes you can find patterns in that.

We had a customer with higher operating cost than others conducting similar operations. They were flying in an extreme regime, we looked at what they were doing and there didn’t seem to be anything abnormal about what they were doing.

But almost all of their pilots were ex-navy pilots and were used to landing on ships. The profile of landing on a ship in terms of being aggressive meant that they had a similar approach to landing on an oil platform – which wasn’t necessary. So once they changed how they operated then the cost came down. There are gems like that everywhere.

 

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