June 7, 2013 10:59:13 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
American Eurocopter officials announced earlier this week that Arizona-based aviation company Pylon Aviation has placed an order for six new AS350 helicopters.
Employees of the company's Columbus plant will be tasked with assembling two AS350B3e aircraft and four AS350B2s. The AS350B3e is Eurocopter's top-selling single engine aircraft, according to company spokesman Bob Cox.
Each order of the ASE350 is built in Columbus along with the UH-72 Lakota, which the company produces for United States Army and National Guard fleets.
According to a press release, Pylon Aviation "specializes in all aspects of operating aircraft, especially Eurocopter helicopters." The company helps operators navigate flight instruction and hire pilots and equips helicopters with customized equipment.
While it's typical for Eurocopter to receive an order to build one or two AS350s, an order to produce six is rare, Cox said. This is the second such order in six months, a positive sign for workers at the plant even as they wait for a decision on possible cuts to the Lakota program due to sequestration. Proposed cuts to the Pentagon budget include a reduction of funding from 41 helicopters to 10 over in 2014-15. The company held a rally for state officials and employees last week to call for Congress to reconsider any cuts to the program.
Cox said the AS350 is a popular non-military helicopter.
"It's very popular with law enforcement, emergency medical services companies and others who want to buy a helicopter but don't need a big one. It's our most popular model and has been for quite a number of years now," Cox said. "Production of the AS350 and the Lakota helps that plant going forward. We expect to keep selling these aircraft for years to come. It's always good news anytime you get more orders. Increasing the backlog helps increase job security."
Cox said over the last decade Eurocopter has delivered an average of 45 models of the AS350 per year, including 42 last year. He said he hopes to see that number go up in the near future.
"This is a big piece of what is done (in Columbus). We put the plant there to start this production before we got the Lakota contract," Cox said. "(The AS350) has been produced every year since the plant opened in 2004."
Shortly after announcing the contract, Eurocopter officials also said they had named helicopter industry veteran Steven D. Webster vice president of engineering and flight operations. Officials stated in a release that he will be responsible for engineering, certifications and flight operations at the company's operations in Columbus and Texas. Webster was formerly a technology director for AVX Aircraft Co., in Fort Worth, Texas, and has previous experience in leadership roles at Bell Helicopter.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.