Right helicopter, wrong time for Bristow

Bristow Caribbean

This originally appeared as part of our Helicopter Investor Weekly newsletter series. Click here to subscribe.

What a difference six years can make. At Heli-Expo 2013 Airbus celebrated Bristow Helicopters signing as an early customer of its EC175 super-medium helicopter. The 12-helicopter order was not a big surprise – Airbus had started a worldwide demo tour at Bristow’s headquarters on a wet day in Louisiana the month before. But it was a big win for the manufacturer.

It was also a clear validation of the super-medium helicopter. Bristow was a blue-chip operator that could be relied on to take more helicopters as it continued to grow. Two years later Bristow added a couple more.

In 2013 – or 2015 – no one would have expected Bristow to cancel 22 H175s as part of a Chapter 11 restructuring. But this, of course, has just happened.

“During the Chapter 11 process, the company identified cost savings to be achieved through a fleet reduction by eliminating leased helicopters that were idle, carried above-market lease payments or that could be replaced with other helicopters within Bristow’s fleet,” a Bristow spokesman told Helicopter Investor this week.

Airbus will not be surprised – Bristow had already delayed deliveries. And the manufacturer will find new homes for the helicopters. The super-mediums out in the market are earning their keep. The monthly flight hours of super-mediums, such as the H175 and the AW189, increased by 18% from August 2017 to August 2019 in the oil and gas space, according to research by Air and Sea Analytics.

But it is a good lesson. No one expects to see as many orders at Heli Expo 2020 in a few weeks as in 2013 or 2015. And after the last downturn no one is likely to trust the big announcements.

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