It’s still early days, but all the indications are suggesting that Airbus made the right call when it reconfigured its private rotorcraft business under the Airbus Corporate Helicopters brand.

When ACH was launched at EBACE two years ago, the division’s head, Frederic Lemos, told ShowNews that the intention was “to provide customers with an ownership experience that raises the bar.” Today, he says, that determination to exceed heightened expectations is reaping real results.

“Within a market which is pretty flat, we’ve been really resilient in the way we’ve been grabbing market share to competition,” he says. “That was the plan, that was the main focus. We actually pay very specific attention to this market with a precise, fitted-to-purpose strategy and a dedicated attention team.”

ACH booked 68 sales in 2018, 11 more aircraft than it sold in the previous year. These include 10 ACH versions of the forthcoming 160, which Lemos says is “a real game-changer in the medium segment... because of the design, because of the compact size, because of the modernity and the added value that we bring in terms of ease of operations and costs in comparison with what exists in the market today.”

To achieve rising sales in a market that is not expanding, ACH must be winning business away from competitors. According to Lemos, ACH is making gains against a number of rival platforms.

“Our market share on the intermediate singles, with the 125 and the 130, was already big in comparison to the Bell 47, which is our main competitor,” he says. “Where we have really been growing in terms of sales is light twins, where the 145 has taken a space it was not taking two years before. Two years ago we were selling maybe five to six 145s, maximum; [last year] we sold 14.

“On top of those 14 we also two aircraft which ended up with PPA customers as well – so basically we had 16 new customers flying 145s, which is a market that used to be dominated by the [Agusta Westland] 109. And the 135 is maintaining a good level of business with five aircraft in the year, which is almost as much as the Bell 429.

“Where we really have been growing, then, is the medium segment,” Lemos says. “The Dolphin 155 has been decreasing a bit in terms of numbers of sales, in comparison with Agusta 139; the [AW] 169 has not really picked up so much. The Sikorsky 76 is disappearing a bit from the market, in terms of not meeting customers’ requirements, so in the medium segment it’s more Leonardo and Airbus; in the light twin, Bell, Leonardo and Airbus; and in the intermediate singles, basically Bell and us.”

The sales gains ACH has made in 2018 outpace those of Airbus’s standard civilian helicopters, suggesting that the ACH concept is proving its worth. The business is not reliant on major announcements or new launches – at EBACE this year, the company’s main news is a continuation of its partnership with Mercedes Benz Design on a range of cabin interiors, and Lemos is keen to highlight a five-blade, bearing-less rotor system for the 145 which will see its first delivery to the launch customer in 2020. It is the qualities of the aircraft, and the inherent advantages the ACH structure gives the company, that is enabling ACH to win business from its rivals, Lemos argues.

“The 145 is a very competitive platform,” he says. “It has a huge performance [yet is a] very compact aircraft. More and more of our customers are younger, they want to go to places which are [challenging for] more traditional passenger transport. They put their aircraft on boats, they go to land in remote places, so they want something robust, something with maintenance plans which are very reliable.

“Beyond the platform is also the experience,” he adds. “We’ve been paying very significant attention to the customer, enhancing the customer experience, not only in terms of interacting with us but also in terms of the quality we embed in our helicopter and trying to always improve the product.

“The 145 is the best seller, but still we are in a dynamic where we’re going to improve it again for our customers. And I think this dynamic, and this customer experience, is very valued by the customer. ACH is really well perceived because it’s a dedicated structure and attention to the client, and we are really focused in improving continuously what we do for them.”