Covid crisis helps Safran Helicopter Engines focus on reducing emissions

Avatar for Oliver JohnsonBy Oliver Johnson | November 16, 2021

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 25 seconds.

Safran Helicopter Engines is targeting a 50 percent reduction in the fuel consumption of its engines by 2030, as it aims to harness the greater societal focus on decarbonization that emerged during the Covid crisis.

The first flight of a Safran-powered helicopter using 100 percent SAF took place in November in Marignane, France. The aircraft was an Airbus H225, powered by Safran Makila 2 engines. Airbus Helicopters Photo
The first flight of a Safran-powered helicopter using 100 percent SAF took place in November in Marignane, France. The aircraft was an Airbus H225, powered by Safran Makila 2 engines. Airbus Helicopters Photo

In a wide-ranging briefing with Vertical ahead of the debut edition of European Rotors in Cologne, Germany, Franck Saudo, CEO of Safran Helicopter Engines, said the Covid crisis highlighted the resiliency of both the wider helicopter industry and his own company.

“The women and men of Safran Helicopter Engines, all around the world, were there for our customers at any point in time [during the pandemic] to secure the logistics, supply of parts, services, [and] technical assistance [needed] to make helicopters fly,” said Saudo.

This was made possible by an early focus on the performance of its supply chain “from the first minute of the crisis,” he said, “so that no supplier would let us down.”

However, the company undoubtedly felt the impact of the pandemic, with order cancellations impacting new engine deliveries. This year, new engine deliveries are down 15 percent from pre-pandemic levels.

“I do not see a recovery in [new engine] deliveries in the short term,” said Saudo.

ADAC contacted Safran in early 2021 to enquire about using SAF to power a flight, and was able to do so just seven weeks later. Safran Photo
ADAC contacted Safran in early 2021 to enquire about using SAF to power a flight, and was able to do so just seven weeks later. Safran Photo

Facing this new reality, Saudo said Safran Helicopter Engines quickly streamlined its processes and costs accordingly.

“The speed of the adaptation was of the essence, because this Covid crisis not only brought risks, but also opportunities,” said Saudo. “The longer you take to adapt, the slower you are to take up the opportunities.”

Chief among these has been what Saudo labels an “accelerated societal focus on decarbonization.”

As a company, Safran Helicopter Engines has been looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions for the last decade, he said. “The market pull was not necessarily there before the Covid crisis, and the good news for us is this has now changed.”

This work has included the ongoing optimization of engines to reduce their fuel consumption. The 1,100- to 1,300-shaft horsepower Arrano, certified in 2019 (and currently powering the Airbus H160), offered a 15 percent reduction in fuel consumption “compared to existing engines” said Saudo. The company’s target is to reduce engine fuel consumption by a further 20 percent by 2030.

The Arrano, used in the Airbus H160, provides a 15 percent reduction in fuel consumption over previous generations, according to Safran. Safran Photo
The Arrano, used in the Airbus H160, provides a 15 percent reduction in fuel consumption over previous generations, according to Safran. Safran Photo

A second element in Safran Helicopter Engines’ sustainability roadmap is electric hybrid technology, which offers the promise of a further 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption. One example of this work is the company’s “eco mode” technology, which allows one engine in a twin-engine helicopter to be switched off during cruise flight to reduce fuel burn. A fast electric restart of the engine allows the aircraft to maintain the power, safety, and versatility benefits of a twin-engine aircraft. The technology will be included in Airbus’s Racer demonstrator, which is being developed under the European Research Clean Sky 2 project.

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) are the third element of Safran Helicopter Engines’ decarbonization effort.

“We strongly believe in sustainable aviation fuels for two reasons,” said Saudo. “One is SAF enables us to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 percent, and the second reason is that SAF can be used as early as today.”

All Safran engines are certified to be fueled with a blend of up to 50 percent SAF, but the company is working to increase that percentage even further. In September, a ground test campaign saw a Makila 2 engine powered with 100 percent SAF, paving the way for the company to apply for an experimental flight certificate “in the coming weeks.” Safran Helicopter Engines aims to certify its product line to run on 100 percent SAF by 2023.

The Makila 2 engine was first tested with 100 percent SAF during a ground test campaign by Safran. Safran Photo
The Makila 2 engine was first tested with 100 percent SAF during a ground test campaign by Safran. Safran Photo

Saudo said the widespread use of SAF is prevented by the “chicken and egg problem” of low demand because of low supply, and low supply because of low demand.

“It’s a shared responsibility of the whole helicopter — and I would say aviation — industry to work collectively in responsibility to take care of this . . . problem,” he said. Governmental incentives or mandates may be a part of the solution in stimulating demand and reducing the cost of SAF, Saudo added.

Over the last 50 years, Safran Helicopter Engines has reduced the fuel consumption of its engines by 50 percent. With these three pillars in place, the company has a lofty aim of repeating the feat by 2030.

Notice a spelling mistake or typo?

Click on the button below to send an email to our team and we will get to it as soon as possible.

Report an error or typo

Have a story idea you would like to suggest?

Click on the button below to send an email to our team and we will get to it as soon as possible.

Suggest a story

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.