June 16, 2015 / 7:27 AM / 2 years ago

Airbus starts development of new X6 heavy helicopter

French President Francois Hollande (C), listens to the explanations of Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Helicopters Guillaume Faury, during the inauguration of the 51st Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport near Paris, June 15, 2015. REUTERS/Remy de la Mauviniere/Pool

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Helicopters will start a two-year development phase for a new model aimed at improving fuel-efficiency and comfort for civilian customers in markets such as search and rescue and the energy sector, it said at the Paris air show on Tuesday.

Reuters previously reported Airbus Helicopters planned to launch development of the X6, a long-awaited follow-up to its H225 Super Puma model, at the Paris show after the resolution of a standoff between parent Airbus Group (AIR.PA) and the French government over funding for the project.

Airbus Helicopters Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said the X6 -- a so-called “heavy” helicopter -- would primarily target the oil and gas industry as well as search and rescue services, and would meet customer demands for more comfortable helicopters that can go further.

“It will be smoother, more comfortable, lower levels of noise ... And a much higher level of fuel efficiency,” he said.

He also said the X6 would be the company’s first civil helicopter to feature Airbus’s fly-by-wire technology, found in Airbus jets and which uses computers to fly the aircraft within safe limits.

Faury said he was “keeping an eye” on the potential sale of Sikorsky. United Technologies Corp (UTX.N) said on Monday it was exiting the helicopter business and would decide by the end of the third quarter whether to spin off or sell its $8 billion Sikorsky Aircraft unit, the U.S. military’s largest helicopter maker.

Faury added Airbus Helicopters was getting some demands to postpone deliveries to customers due to the tough oil and gas market, but that there had been no cancellations so far.

He said the need for energy companies to reduce costs was even driving them to look at newer, more efficient helicopters, pointing to an order on Monday from lessor Milestone Aviation for H175 helicopters.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by James Regan and Mark Potter

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