Less than a year from its launch, Airbus’s Corporate Helicopters brand is living up to the company’s expectations. Despite 2017 being “a little bit depressed overall for business aviation in terms of volume of sales,” the first year has been “a great success,” says Frederic Lemos, ACH’s global head, who adds that 2018 will be “the year where we confirm the trend.”

Lemos says ACH made 58 sales during 2017, and that further sales have been made in 2018, including five orders for ACH versions of the forthcoming H160.

“The H160 is a real game-changer,” he says. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the VIP version because of the size of the helicopter, and also because of the comfort. We’ve been giving the opportunity to some pilots and clients to fly the helicopter already.”

Of the five H160 orders, four are from customers in the U.S., with the other previously identified as the China Minsheng Investment Group’s Leasing division. One aspect of these sales that Lemos is particularly heartened by is that these early sales for an as-yet uncertified aircraft are to customers who have previously operated fleets from other manufacturers.

“Of course, existing [Airbus] customers who are already loyal are trading up for the H160,” he says. “But the thing that we’re quite happy with is the customers coming from the Sikorsky S-76 and Leonardo AW139 who are definitely very interested in the H160.

“The first customer was an S-76 customer – a very long-lasting Sikorsky customer,” Lemos says. “They have been flying the S-76 for 20 years. They’re a major actor in corporate aviation in the U.S. – the biggest corporate-aviation market in the world, and very demanding.”

As heartened as Airbus clearly is about early sales successes of the in-development platform, Lemos is under no illusions about what is at stake.

“If we fail in the U.S. with the first customer, we’re dead in the U.S. – that’s as simple as it is.”

“If we don’t satisfy them, if it’s not reaching expectations, then there’ll be no more H160s in the U.S., and they will go back to what they had before.”