Dec. 24--Did you know that Thailand has the largest fleet of helicopters in Southeast Asia, with over 300 at last count?
The figure reflects the country's importance as a major helicopter market in a region where Eurocopter, a division of EADS, wants to capture the growing business potential and consolidate its profile.
The Franco-German-Spanish group aims to increase the Eurocopter fleet in Thailand to 50 aircraft in the next two years from 35 now, said Derek Sharples, chief executive of Eurocopter South East Asia.
Eurocopter has a strong presence in the Thai civil market, with all but four of the 35 delivered rotorcraft used for corporate transport, emergency medical services and other purposes.
The company is eager to raise its profile in the Thai market's military side, which has been dominated by US helicopter makes like Sikorsky and Bell.
Eurocopter has just begun to carve out a market in the armed forces, with the delivery of four units to the Royal Thai Army taking place this year.
The company's latest sales campaign zeroes in on two new models: the mid-sized twin-engine EC175 designed for the oil and gas industry, and the EC145 T2, the enhanced version of the EC145 twin-engine light utility helicopter.
Eurocopter last week brought the two rotorcraft to Bangkok to demonstrate their capabilities to about 350 people from various groups considered potential buyers.
The company organised about 50 demonstration flights over the skies of Greater Bangkok and Thailand during Dec 16-19.
The flights were part of an Asian tour for Eurocopter that also covered Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, following a recent visit to the Dubai Air Show.
Eurocopter wants to sell the EC175 to Asia's burgeoning petroleum industry, and it is aiming to receive 30 orders over the next five years, said Jochen Schmid, manager for oil and gas sales at Eurocopter.
In Thailand, Eurocopter is directing its EC175 sales pitch to PTT Exploration and Production and Chevron Thailand, the country's two biggest upstream petroleum producers.
Also in the mix are helicopter operators that serve the Gulf of Thailand, including SFS Aviation as well as Thai Aviation Services.
Eurocopter wants oil firms to embrace the EC175 to set an example for other operators, Pierre Andre, chief executive of Eurocopter Thailand, told the Bangkok Post.
The EC175 is entering a competitive segment _ the Thai oil and gas industry _ in which Sikorsky and AgustaWestland, an Anglo-Italian company, currently rule the roost.
Eurocopter says the EC175 is perfectly suited to Thailand's oil and gas industry, especially as platforms move further into the Gulf of Thailand, increasing flight lengths to 130-140 nautical miles.
At these distances, the EC175's payload capacity with up to 16 passengers beats all competitors, according to Eurocopter.
The EC175 is still pending certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency in 2014, the final step before delivery to customers begins.
As for the EC145 T2, Mr Schmid said Eurocopter hopes to sell more than 50 in the next five years.
The EC145 T2 is aimed at Thailand's parapublic operations such as law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical services and corporate transport.
Certification and start-up of deliveries for the EC145 T2 are planned in 2014.
The worldwide order backlog is 50 for the EC175 and 100 for the EC145 T2.
Delivery of the two Eurocopter models now takes about two years but will take longer in future as more orders come in.
Under its production plan, Eurocopter is able to churn out 60 EC145 T2s a year and 15 EC175s, whose rate could be ramped up to 30-40 a year.
Mr Sharples said Eurocopter's own maintenance centre in Bangkok's Min Buri area, established in 2009, will be well positioned to support the expanding fleet of Eurocopter in Thailand.
Copyright 2013 - Bangkok Post, Thailand
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