With the helicopter market expected to "fully recover" by 2012, Turbomeca, part of the Safran Group, has reworked its strategy to stay afloat. Three key aspects emerge — connecting on a continuous basis with the existing customers base; restructured organization; and strengthening operations in emerging and key markets that includes China, India and Russia.
Giving details of Turbomeca's strategy, after a two-day interaction with its Indian operators, Philippe Couteaux, Vice President and General Manager, Airframers, Turbomeca said "We want to be as close to our customers as possible. There are about 2,400 customers worldwide and in India we have about 30 civilian, besides the armed forces and the paramilitary. We engage with them constantly."
Turbomeca normally organizes interactions with its operators region-wise, but for Indian operators there is an exclusive session. In Delhi, Turbomeca officials from India and France interacted on two days with operators — one day exclusively for the civilians and another for the armed and paramilitary forces. "The interactions have been very fruitful. We listen to their concerns and we explain our programmes and at the end of the day it is satisfying to both."
As the economic crisis snowballed the helicopter market went plummeting. "The helicopter market has not restarted on the recovery path unlike other sectors in the aviation industry. The smaller and the lighter helicopter segment was the worst hit. Turbomeca produced about 1,300 engines in 2008, around 1,100 in 2009, fell to about 900 in 2010 and is expected to be around that much in 2011. The crisis was mostly in the civilian helicopter market as the military segment was more or less stable. We hope to see recovery in 2012."
However, Philippe mentioned that the helicopter market is set to grow "dramatically" in the next 10 years with Indian demand expected to go up by 122 per cent from 829 helicopters in 2009 to 1844 helicopters in 2019. There are almost 140 civil engines of the total of 300 Turbomeca engines in India.
Underscoring Turbomeca's commitment to the Indian market, Philippe stated that Turbomeca local representation ensured coordination on programs; technology transfer assistance; offset development; and product support for helicopter fleets.
Asked about its association with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), he said "We have a fruitful co-production program with HAL. There is an agreed transfer of technology plan with HAL for Ardiden1 (Shakti) in four phases. In phase 1, we provide the complete engine to HAL and in the following phases HAL will gradually manufacture. In the ultimate phase, HAL will manufacture 70 per cent of the engine, with Turbomeca providing 30 per cent of smaller kits." On where the program was currently, Philippe said "it is between phase 1 and 2" and that the ultimate phase would depend on the helicopter development program of HAL.
The Ardiden 1H1 (Shakti) certification was completed in March 2009 and its final entry into service is due in the forthcoming weeks. The Ardiden 1H1 will power 5 to 6.5 ton helicopters. "There is a firm order of 159 Dhruv helicopters from the Army to HAL and the Shakti engines will power them."
Turbomeca has been supporting indigenous platforms such as ALH (Advanced Light Helicopter); ROH (Reconnaissance and Observation Helicopter); IMRH (Indian Multi-Role Helicopter); LCH (Light Combat Helicopter); LUH (Light Utility Helicopter) and Jaguar of Indian Air Force (via RRTM Adour engine). The LCH is equipped with Shakti engines. "Turbomeca will support the Indian helicopter industry, both civil and military, including the Adour powering the Hawk and Jaguar. Turbomeca is ready to invest in India and has been having discussions with key players. We are closely watching the issue of foreign direct investment (FDI) in India as we see tremendous business opportunities here."
"Our relations with Indian companies, particularly HAL, have been long lasting. It was in 1961, the Artouste engine was licensed to HAL to power Chetak and Cheetah fleets. In 2003, we entered into a contract with HAL — co-development of Ardiden 1H1 (Shakti) engine and delivered it to power the Dhruv helicopter and supplied TM 333 2B2 engines for the first 99 Dhruv helicopters of HAL."
On the research and development (R&D) efforts, the Safran group has been continually been making investments. "In 2008, the R&D investment was 1.2 billion euros." Turbomeca has been working on making helicopters lot more "environment friendly" by reducing noise emission levels; redesigning the inlets and nozzles.
To a question on Turbomeca engines requiring regular washing in comparison to Russian engines, Philippe said "it is difficult to compare two different types of engines with the design, concept and performance being at variance. We do have procedures for washing and yes, the military has raised this issue particularly with regard to helicopters which are used in the desert region where there is scarcity of water. We possibly will relax the frequency of washing the engines. But you should look at the overall performance and durability of the engine and I must say that we definitely have an edge."
The company, he said, was also working on future engine families and these would be developed in a short lead time. The technology demonstrator program was already on and Turbomeca would continue to invest in engine development programs to improve efficiencies and bring down operating costs. "There is a shift towards heavier platforms and we are working on the 8 ton category among others." In the short term Turbomeca is working on expanding the current range; improving TBO (time between overhaul) and availability and reducing fuel consumption.
In the medium and long term, work is going on with regard to green turbines and integrating turbines in the helicopter.
Safran's National Executive, South Asia, Hossein Shafiei explained how Turbomeca had the widest range of engines for every class of helicopter and the power range included Arrius; Arriel; TM333; Ardiden/Shakti; MTR 390; Makila and RTM 322. With a market share of 46 per cent, Turbomeca continued to hold market position and that worldwide about 15,200 turbines were in operation.
Talking about Safran's India footprint, besides being the number one supplier of commercial aircraft engines, the group had NACIL, Jet Airways, JetLite, GoAir and SpiceJet as customers. The group held number one position with regard to supply of Automatic Flight Control Systems to HAL and deliveries of helicopter engines. It held the second position for deliveries of engines/equipment for combat aircraft. Overall there were about 1,600 employees in India working in production, design and services. As a Tier-I equipment global supplier, the group had revenues of 10 billion Euros in 2009.