Airbus and the countries in the Pacific region have been partners for more than 40 years. Customers in Australia and New Zealand, as well as the South Pacific islands such as Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia, have affirmed their confidence in the company’s civil aircraft, defence, space and helicopter products time and again. As of August 2020, Airbus had secured orders for 300 passenger aircraft, as well as more than 600 helicopters and military fixed-wing aircraft, from customers in the region.
The company also has had a long and successful industrial presence in the Pacific. This includes maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) centres for civil and military fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, as well as helicopter assembly facilities. These have made a direct contribution to the local economies, built up regional aerospace capabilities, and created high-value jobs in the aviation industry.
In February 2019, Air Vanuatu became the launch customer of the A220 in the Pacific region by making its first ever order with Airbus for four A220s (two A220-100s and two A220-300s).
As of August 2020, Solomon Airlines from the Solomon Islands had a fleet of two A320s as its flagship aircraft.
Australia’s Skytraders also received an Airbus A319 for commercial airliner services to Antarctica. These flights transport both passengers and high priority cargo, and the aircraft can also be deployed on rapid medical evacuation missions.
Airbus rotary-wing aircraft have been serving customers in the Australia Pacific region since 1986 when Aerospatiale Helicopters Australia, a predecessor company, began operations in Sydney. In 2001, Airbus established a wholly-owned subsidiary – Brisbane-based Airbus Australia Pacific – to cover sales and after-sales support in the region.
The company assembled 18 of the 22 Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARH) operated by the Australian Army, as well as 43 of 47 Taipan Multi Role Helicopters (MRH-90) in service with the Australian Defence Force, at its facilities in Brisbane.
In 2014, Airbus H135 T2+ twin-engine helicopters were selected as training helicopters for the Australian Defence Force’s pilots. Deliveries of all 15 helicopters were completed in late 2016. The Australian navy also operates more than 10 AS350Bs for lead-in helicopter training.
New Zealand’s defence force selected the NH90 multi-role helicopter for frontline military and civil operations in 2005. As of August 2020, the country operated eight NH90 helicopters to support ground operations, disaster relief, search and rescue, counter-drug operations and counterterrorism missions.
Over 500 Airbus helicopters operate in the civil and parapublic segments, ranging from the single-engine H120s to the twin-engine H135, heavy-lift H225 models, and the first five-bladed H145 for Australia. They are especially popular in the mature Australia and New Zealand markets for missions including tourism, search and rescue, and transport services.
In recent years, Airbus also has made inroads in emerging markets such as Papua New Guinea, where multi-role helicopters such as the H145 perform missions ranging from emergency medical services to law enforcement and private transport.
In the military aircraft segment, Australia signed a landmark deal in 2004 with Airbus for five A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft for its future refuelling and strategic transport requirements. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) became the platform’s launch operator in June 2011, and has designated the aircraft KC-30A in its service. Australia made a follow-on order for two more KC-30A in 2015. The RAAF today operates seven KC-30A aircraft.
In 2017, Airbus and the RAAF signed a research agreement to further develop the MRTT’s capabilities. This started with the joint development of the automatic air-to-air refuelling (A3R) concept, and can be extended to other areas as the platform reaches operational maturity.
In Papua New Guinea, the country’s defence force operates a CN235 tactical aircraft in support of transport, logistical, disaster relief and search and rescue missions in the country.
In the space segment, Airbus also has been supplying Earth observation satellite imagery to the Australian market for over 25 years, and the company’s fully integrated optical and radar satellite constellation enables daily acquisitions at high resolutions.
In 2016, Airbus opened a brand-new purpose-built satellite ground station in Adelaide, Southern Australia, to land the company’s Skynet secure military satellite communications. This extends an existing chain of teleports in France, Germany, Norway, the UK and the USA, providing global coverage in both fixed and mobile satellite services.
Airbus announced in February 2020 that it is supporting the Adelaide-based SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), in a seven-year research programme to develop and strengthen space technologies in Australia. Teaming with Airbus, SmartSat CRC will capitalise on Airbus’ expertise and funding to strengthen sovereign space capabilities, unlocking significant opportunities to generate new space technologies. The aim is to enable Australia to benefit from the 9.5% growth rate across the global space industry, compared to the global economy growth of 2.5%.
In July 2020, Airbus secured its first satellite contract for a fully reconfigurable telecommunications satellite from Australia’s second largest telecommunications company and leading satellite operator Optus. This contract will see Airbus delivering an end-to-end solution, including design and manufacture of the Optus 11 spacecraft, as well as an advanced digital suite to manage the digital payload and providing Optus with a turnkey solution.
In December 2018, Wyndham in Western Australia became the world’s first High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) flight base, serving as the launch and flight-test site for the Airbus Zephyr solar-electric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Airbus chose Wyndham for its largely unrestricted airspace and reliable weather, and the base is the result of the company’s significant investment into its Zephyr programme.
Over the years, through both acquisitions and organic growth, Airbus has established a presence in four MRO facilities in Australia and New Zealand. It also is embedded on eight defence bases in both countries, allowing it to support the defence forces in both Australia and New Zealand.
The extensive MRO capabilities at these sites allow Airbus to support almost 600 civil and military helicopters that are in service in Australia Pacific, as well as a wide range of fixed-wing aircraft operated by the region’s defence forces.
These long-standing partnerships, and the company’s continuous investment in the local aviation industry, have resulted in Airbus employing almost 1,500 people across the region in high-value aerospace jobs.