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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eurocopter Aberdeen Training Facility Comes Online

By Andrew Drwiega

Eurocopter officially opened its North Sea support and service center on February 1 in Aberdeen, Scotland. The complex represents a £10 million investment by Eurocopter and took two-and-a-half years to complete. It covers 53,820 square feet (5,000 square meters).

The manufacturer designed the center with expansion in mind, and there is space for a second simulator (possibly an EC175 sim) alongside the existing EC225 full flight simulator, which has already been booked for a minimum of 1,000 hours in its first year.

Markus Steinke, managing director of Eurocopter UK, said that the service center will support Eurocopter’s three main customers in the oil and gas industry located in Aberdeen—Bond, Bristow and CHC, although it is not exclusive to those companies.

“Eurocopter is proud to be the leading supplier of offshore helicopters [to] the North Sea sector,” said Steinke, adding that “exactly 100” were currently operating in the region—45 from Aberdeen, 11 from other sites in the UK, 31 are located in Norway, eight in the Netherlands and the remaining five in Denmark. Of these 100 helicopters, 84 are directly involved in oil and gas operations, while the remaining 16 are declared search and rescue (SAR) assets. Steinke said that the type mix is broken down accordingly: “24 helicopters are from the Dauphin product range and 76 from the Super Puma/EC225 ranges with the main helicopter being the EC225, with 28 machines.”

In opening this facility, Eurocopter has invested not only in today’s oil and gas industry but has an eye on the future, not only in terms of the new EC175, but also the wider energy industry future—specifically the development of wind farms. Steinke said that Denmark, Germany and the UK are generating the wind farm idea in and around the North Sea. “Our estimate for this country [UK] for the end of the decade is that we will have 20 helicopters flying for wind farm support of different forms—close to the coastline with small helicopters, then larger ones further offshore working to a major hub.”

Derek Sharples, Eurocopter’s executive vice president, support and service, said after the opening: “Our EC225 helicopter program is our flagship... we are ramping up deliveries of the helicopter and have demand coming from other customers around the world. We will use this facility for the training of other customers—such as the Norwegians.”

Sharples agreed that the Aberdeen facility could be seen as a blueprint for the future regarding Eurocopter’s development strategy within the energy sector.

“This year we open the EC225 simulator here, the first EC225 simulator to open outside Marignane in France, although it is the 15th Eurocopter simulator worldwide and part of our strategy to be close to our customers.”

He added that there were other projects to open EC225 simulators in Brazil, Malaysia and China, but gave no timeline. Eurocopter’s UK business goes from strength to strength, according to Steinke: “In the UK we grew revenue by 25 percent last year and we have done this in spite of the crisis—the footprint in the UK has doubled since 2008.”

Commenting on the downturn on sales across Eurocopter, he said that with the delivery of most of the police aircraft to the UK and with the formation announced of the new National Police Air Service, there would be a period of consolidation. However, he added that “half of this [police] fleet is maintained at Oxford. The civil business was not very good last year, with only two new helicopters... but the company is built on three pillars—defense, civil and service business—and we are able to grow and build on our competencies. It is a very healthy structure.”

The last word on new aircraft prospects came from Sharples, who specifically talked about the EC175: “We have 14 orders from 14 customers for the EC175 and we are currently converting them into firm contracts—so expect announcements at HAI [Heli-Expo 2011].”

The Details: EC225 Simulator

Built in cooperation with INDRA/Spain and featuring Eurocopter’s simulation data package, the EC225 simulator is a full-motion system with six degrees of freedom, an instructor station, simulation of all systems and optional equipment solutions, avionics system and a replica of the EC225 cockpit. It features sound and vibration, and has a visual system field of view of 210 degrees horizontal and 80 degrees vertical, which exceeds the highest full flight simulator (FFS) Level B requirements. A 50-degree vertical field of view located below the horizon provides a ‘look down’ capability for SAR and night helideck landing training. The visual database features the airports, helipads, oil platforms and ships as experienced in the North Sea and is compatible with FLIR and night vision goggle (NVG) operations.

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