Eurocopter Supporting Global Military and Security Customers: An Interview with Patrick Le Barbenchon
4 Pumas operated off of the Mistral during the Bold Alligator Exercise. They were used primarily to support the insertion of ground troops and to support ground maneuver.
According to Murielle Delaporte: “The artillery raid exercise involved the 3rd RAMA and was conducted on February 7th, 2012 in the context of bilateral training with the Americans. The 300 kilos mortar is already a logistic challenge on its own and can be delivered fully mounted as a sling load or in several pieces inside a helicopter. This was the method selected for this exercise, two mortars being carried by two Pumas in three major 100 kilos pieces. The goal is to assemble the whole mortar in less than five minutes and have it ready to shoot.”
During, the SLD visit to France in January 2012, SLD discussed with Patrick Le Barbenchon, Military Operational Marketing Manager, the Eurocopter approach to the military and security market, notably with regard to the aircraft very visible in Bold Alligator 2012, namely the Puma family. Le Barbenchon provided a very helpful overview on the Puma family and the approach towards the future.
SLD: We will see Pumas during the Bold Alligator 2012 exercise and they will be French Army helos. Their mission largely will be to bring in artillery pieces in support of the insertion of ground forces.
Le Barbenchon: The French navy has no Pumas, but certainly the French Army does. French Army Aviation uses the Pumas in the French forces.
SLD: What is the main operational advantage of the Puma family for the military?
Le Barbenchon: They are a very flexible multi-mission aircraft. Given its size, it is highly maneuverable as well.
It is smaller than the CH-47, for example, but the advantage of that is greater flexibility and maneuverability. You have good maneuverability in terms of tactical flight.
But it has good capacity as well for cargo or passengers. For example, on the Super Puma you can carry 24 soldiers. You have a good ratio in terms of size to capabilities with the Puma family.
SLD: In terms of military forces, who have been your major customers worldwide for the Puma family?
Le Barbenchon: All over the world we have some Pumas. Of course, European countries are customers with France first. But we have a significant number of helicopters flying in many, many countries.
(The Eurocopter Super Puma (originally built by Aérospatiale) is a helicopter marketed for civil and military use. It is an enlarged and re-engined version of the original Aérospatiale Puma and first flew on September 13 1978.
The type has proved immensely successful, chosen by 37 military forces around the world, and some 1,000 civil operators. The Super Puma has proved especially well-suited to the North Sea oil industry, where it is used to ferry personnel and equipment to and from oil platforms. In civilian configuration it can seat approximately 18 passengers and two crew.
SLD: In your CEO’s presentation to the press in late January, Bertling hypothesized that the global market was expected to grow over the next few years, with the current size of the global military market triple that of the civil market with the markets projected to be of equal size in 2025. Obviously, your global presence in the military market is a key part of your success.
But one thing is clear; Eurocopter’s presence in the offshore oil and gas industry is a key element for building the Super Puma and de facto amortizing the cost of the military variants as well. This can prove very attractive to both military and civil customers, namely having both feet firmly planted in both markets with a core product.
Le Barbenchon: We indeed have a major presence in the oil and gas markets. But also important is our evolutionary approach. With the AS 332 Super Puma, we developed a helicopter primarily used by civil operators for offshore passenger and material transportation to oil and gas rigs. With the evolution from the AS 332 to the EC 225 Super Puma / EC 725 Cougar, we brought in some new capabilities, engines, etc. that gave the new variant additional capabilities.
This aircraft entered service in 2005. We have sold roughly 250 of these from that day. At the moment, we have delivered more than 100 of them, and 75 percent have gone to the civil sector and the remaining number of flying in the military. We have sold 50 of these in Brazil. We have sold roughly 15 to Malaysia. We have some contracts in France, of course, and the last one is in Mexico. Indeed, we are building an EC725 assembly line in Brazil and a production facility for aerostructures and components in Mexico.
(According to one source, the EC 225 is a development of the Aérospatiale / Eurocopter AS 332 with slightly stretched fuselage length and a five-blade main rotor.
SLD: Clearly, an important part of your business is support services and the company has built global presence in the services and support sector.
What have you done to support the French military in Afghanistan with regard to the French helo deployments?
Le Barbenchon: We are providing what we used to call a PBH or parts by the hour contract. We are deploying at the moment a fly-by-the-hour support contract with the French forces in Afghanistan.
(For a look at French helos in combat in Afghanistan see
SLD: How does your customer relationships help in shaping product development?
Le Barbenchon: This is a key part of our business. The goal is to be close to the customer and to make product changes in accordance with requests, needs and requirements.
A good example is the EC725. The French Air Force was looking for an aircraft for combat search and rescue. This became a longer range Super Puma. This aircraft was not from scratch because it was the original Super Puma, so the origin is from the French Air Force, plus Eurocopter.