Eurocopter, the European helicopter manufacturing and maintenance giant, is investing heavily in its SA springboard to maintain a decisive edge in southern Africa, where its current market share is 70%.
Fabrice Cagnat, the Eurocopter Southern Africa CEO, says the company is investing several million rand upgrading its facilities as a result of an ongoing sales boom that he expects to last at least until 2010.
The company has just spent R2 million overhauling its Cape Town service centre and is spending an undisclosed further sum tripling the floor space of its Gauteng base to 6000m2.
The EADS subsidiary currently supports a fleet of about 230 helicopters in the region. Cagnat says most of these are in service with police, emergency medical rescue organisations and corporates. A number are also flown in the tourism/charter market.
He adds that there is currently about 2200 helicopters flying in all of Africa, of which two thirds are operated by the military and the remainder by civil and “parapublic” operators. The Eurocopter share of the total Africa market is around 800 rotorcraft or 36% of the fleet. It has a 38% slice of the African military market and 49% of the civil and “parapublic” market.
Cagnat says indications are this year will be a good one for business. Eurocopter Southern Africa “expects to maintain the 2007 record year level for bookings and turn-over of roughly ZAR 650 million and ZAR 508 million respectively” – a three-fold increase over 2005 volumes.
He expects this to remain buoyant next year as well when the “2010 effect” – preparations for the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup – kicks in.
“To meet this growth, we have increased headcount by 30 per cent and today Eurocopter employs about 100 personnel, including 25 qualified engineers at our Lanseria headquarters and at our service centre at Cape Town International Airport,” Cagnat adds.
The company has also established a training academy at Lanseria. “This new academy provides type rating and technical training for helicopter pilots and engineers for customers from across the region,” Cagnat says, adding the move underscores its long-term commitment to the region.
The company’s technical presence has been further increased with the deployment of field representatives “who can provide assistance and support to operators all over the country and everywhere in Africa.”
Notable clients include the SA Police Service Air Wing that operates 13 AS350B3 Squirrel light helicopters and a mix of 15 older BO105 and BK117 rotorcraft. Eurocopter also supports the state defence group Denel in maintaining the SA Air Force’s Oryx medium helicopter fleet.
The company also recently delivered a number of Squirrels to Botswana and Namibia, prompting Cagnat to say that the purchase is reflective of a new trend, the hand over of responsibility for security from the military to police.