2701 N. Forum Dr., Grand Prairie
Back in 1969, newly-created Vought Helicopter barely made a flicker on the aviation scene when it was created, with good enough reason: That new North Texas company had a meager 17 aircraft and 43 employees and was considered a long shot to succeed in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by Bell Helicopter.
But things do change, including company names. Vought Helicopter became French-owned Aerospatiale, which became Aerospatiale Helicopters, which became American Eurocopter, which eventually was re-branded to today’s moniker, Airbus Helicopters.
Now the company has about 3,100 helicopters flying in North America and provides jobs for 1,100 employees – 500 work locally at either its offices and hangers adjoining Grand Prairie Municipal Airport or a smaller operation at DFW International.
September was also the company’s 50th birthday, an event marked by a work-stopping afternoon party and even a celebratory fly-in by one of the more well-known Airbus Helicopter aficionados, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones showing off his newly acquired Airbus H145 helicopter – the luxury model of course (No doubt a nifty commuter, with twin engines and nine passenger capacity while zipping above the traffic fray at 130 mph).
It’s been a half-century of steady growth for the company, as evidenced by a few factoids:
• Roughly two out of every three air medical helicopters in use today are an Airbus product.
• More than 50 percent of all new law enforcement helicopters are Airbus.
• The Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Parks & Wildlife, and the cities of San Antonio and Austin all operate Airbus helicopters.
• The U.S. Coast Guard has been conducting search and rescue missions with a fleet of 100 Airbus helicopters for more than three decades.
• The U.S. Army and National Guard now have a fleet of more than 440 Airbus UH-72A Lakota helicopters, half of which are being used to train the Army’s next generation of helicopter pilots.
• In 2018, more than 70 percent of all new, non-military helicopters sold in North America were from Grand Prairie-based Airbus.
• Hundreds of helicopter pilots train at the local facility every year, utilizing a mix of ever-expanding hi-tech simulators and in-air flying. Training sessions ranges from two weeks to a month.
The Grand Prairie location is now the company’s main engineering and training center, the DFW International location the main regional warehouse.
Romain Trapp is president of Airbus Helicopters and head of North America region.
Asked why the company a half century ago chose to locate in the same region as its most powerful competitor, he said that proximity was actually a positive.
“This region is the star – ground central – of the aerospace industry in the U.S., which means there are lots of excellent companies with a skilled work force, which is where things start with recruiting,” Trapp said.
“We located here originally because of so many excellent companies with a skilled work force we could recruit,” he adds. “Oddly, one of the challenges Airbus is facing now is that so many companies now steal our employees. But that’s a good problem to have because it means our work force is considered top notch.”
Trapp predicts continuing growth for Airbus Helicopters, though he also sees a major problem evolving for the aerospace industry in general: Not enough younger people considering it as a future career.
“The whole industry is lacking technicians, a big problem for airlines, for aircraft manufacturers and for us,” he said. “We’re talking about a future shortage of thousands of thousands of technicians.
“We’re trying to solve this via collaborations with various colleges and training programs and our own program called Airbus Goes back to school. The best solution seems to be somehow develop more interest in aerospace careers in high school and even middle school,” Trapp said
Trapp’s proudest achievement?
“Our workforce, of course, because they make everything happen. But beyond that I’m proudest of developing helicopters for emergency services. Our helicopters save lives, protect citizens.
“When we delivered one emergency helicopter recently, the nurses were actually crying with joy because they knew they’d be able to save more lives. When you see that, it touches your heart.”
O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.