EUROCOPTER, the world’s top helicopter manufacturer, is intensifying its focus on Malaysia as a potential market for more of its latest and sophisticated aircraft.
A wholly owned subsidiary of EADS (European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co) which is one of the top three aerospace companies in the world, the French helicopter giant has already sold over 60 civil and military aircraft such as the Puma, Super Puma, Ecureuil, Dauphin N2 and N3, and EC-155 to Malaysian operators.
Eurocopter is also the maker of the 23 Alouette IIIs in service with the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and the Malaysian Army’s aviation wing for more than 40 years.
The firm is presently building six AS 555SN Fennec helicopters for the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) at its main production site in Marignane, in France’s southern city of Marseille.
With this 42 million-euro (RM168mil) contract, Eurocopter will be the only helicopter manufacturer to equip all three divisions of the Malaysian Armed Forces.
Eurocopter’s vice-president (Asia-Pacific) Norbert Ducrot said the creation of Eurocopter Malaysia – the latest subsidiary of the leading helicopter maunufacturer – served to reinforce the Franco-German group’s presence in Malaysia.
(The Eurocopter group was formed in 1992 from the merger of the helicopter divisions of Aerospatiale-Matra of France and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace of Germany).
“Eurocopter made the decision to create a subsidiary in Malaysia with the view of providing the best support to Malaysian operators in terms of logistic, technical and maintenance services as well as to forge a strong link with the local industry.
“Malaysia is a very important, potential market for Eurocopter, especially for military and parapublic aircraft as well as corporate and civil operators.
“Malaysia is also one of the countries with the strongest potential for economic expansion in South-East Asia and we are fully aware that your needs for helicopters has significantly increased and become more specific over the past two years.
“We are planning to propose our new state-of-the-art helicopters to Malaysia,” Ducrot said in an interview at the Eurocopter plant in Marignane recently.
Also present were Commander Yeow Ho Siong and Lt Commander Suhaimi Sani of the RMN’s Fennec Helicopter Project Team who will be based in Marseille until March 2004 to monitor the Fennec project.
Yeow and Suhaimi have been in Marseille since January 2002 with three other RMN officers.
Ducrot said the twin-engine AS 555SN light helicopters ordered by the RMN was the military version of the AS 355N civilian model, and would be ideal for search and rescue and training missions and “over-the-horizon” targeting.
“The six helicopters are currently in various stages of production at our manufacturing plant and we expect the first completed one to undergo flight testing in May.
“These are the first military versions of the AS 355N that we are manufacturing, and almost 50% of the new helicopters have been customised for the RMN's needs,” he explained.
Ducrot said with the incorporation of Eurocopter Malaysia, Eurocopter was determined to gain a foothold in Malaysia in helicopter maintenance services in Malaysia.
“The setting up of Eurocopter Malaysia was an important strategic step for us. We plan to develop our Malaysian maintenance depot into a regional base,” he said.
Eurocopter has started building a new hangar for helicopters and rotary wing aircraft in Subang, while its administrative office is based in Kelana Jaya.
“Eurocopter is also working with several companies, such as Sapura Technology, Zetro Aerospace, SME Aerospace and Ikramatic System to further developing our industrial co-operation,” Ducrot said.
“In the future, we are exploring the possibility of conducting customisation work on some of our helicopters in Malaysia,” he pointed out.
Eurocopter is currently bidding to sell its EC-635 helicopters to the Malaysian army.
Ducrot described the Tiger and NH90 helicopters as two of the most exciting new products of Eurocopter.
“The Tiger uses stealth technology and is the modern-day attack helicopter. The French and German armed forces will be the first to have the Tiger range with 80 each, while Australia has ordered 22 units.
“As for the NH90, it is a state-of-the-art transport helicopter and we have received over 250 orders for it.
“We are competing (for tenders) in several countries in Asia and we would like to promote both these aircraft to Malaysia as well,” he added.
He revealed that Eurocopter already had a total of 60 orders for the NH90 from Finland, Norway and Sweden.
“Our targets are to build up the production of the Tiger and NH90 helicopters and develop them into benchmark products.
“We also want to make our customer support more effective through a new structural approach and a denser network of 'on-the-spot' services,” he added.
To a question, Ducrot said it had cost 2bil euros (RM8bil) for research and development on the Tiger helicopter, which was said to have a price tag of 20mil Euros (RM80mil) each. On Eurocopter’s order books, he said it had received orders worth a total of US$9bil, adding that this would keep the company busy over the next four to five years.
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