HI Uplift: Blueberry Aviation 500 up (and counting)
March was a big month for Blueberry Aviation. Not only did the Monaco-based helicopter and commercial aircraft company celebrate 20 years in business while exhibiting at HAI Heli-Expo 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. It also closed on its 500th helicopter transaction, after the delivery of an AW139 to a VIP customer.
The anniversary marks 20 years packed with change, Francois Gautier, CEO and founder tells Helicopter Investor. “Our customers now rely heavily on sourcing financing and operating leases. Particularly major operators in the EMS [emergency medical services] and oil and gas markets,” says Gautier.
Blueberry switched to this model thanks to its commercial aircraft expertise, where operating lessors started becoming key in the 1990s and now covers more than 50% of the market, he says. Gautier set up the company to address an unusual combination in aviation: commercial aircraft and helicopters. The business offers a wide array of services to operators, owners, financiers and investors in the fixed wing aircraft and helicopter sectors. It provides all brands and covers all segments of helicopter and commercial aircraft operations.
In recent years, the high-end VIP corporate market has developed significantly, says Gautier. “This segment has become highly competitive and demanding, focusing on medium twin engines with values close not far off the average offshore aircraft. This segment requires experience and in-depth technical knowledge in order to provide turnkey solutions to those customers. We have been very active on this segment which today is not addressed by lessors.”
It’s a strategy that’s delivering on its promise to pay off. Last year, Blueberry closed 28 helicopter transactions worldwide. And, over the past two decades, has moved more than $1.75bn in rotary assets for more than 275 customers.
Blueberry also sees substantial demand in oil and gas for heavy and medium helicopters. There’s continuing demand too for EMS missions and promising demand in the utility market and for governmental flights.
But, as for most businesses operating in the helicopter industry, supply chain disruptions focusing minds. Aubrey Point, executive vice president, Blueberry Aviation tells Helicopter Investor: “Supply chain issues create new helicopter delivery back-ups and increase demand for used helicopters at least in the short term.”
Rising interest rates are also impacting lease rates, as well as funding rates for customers, he adds. “We will need to provide creative solutions to our customers with the assistance of our large network of financiers developed around commercial aircraft transactions. Indeed, more and more of these financiers are keen to look at helicopter assets for the right transaction volume.”
Another frustration is the dwindling availability of good quality pre-owned helicopters. “The pre-owned market is quickly drying out and good assets rarefy,” says Point. “We expect tension to build up rapidly there as well. Therefore, timing in identifying and securing the right assets is key. This is our day-to-day mission and commitment to our customers.”
So having just celebrated its china anniversary, how does Blueberry Aviation foresee its progress over the next 20 years? “Blueberry will continue to provide innovative solutions with real new technology,” says Gautier. “In parallel we will be a major industry player enabling current technology to live on and permitting new life for current products.”
And will eVTOLs figure in the business’s product mix? Lack of infrastructure and available technologies will mean eVTOL products will not perform economically and will be unable to grow, argues Blueberry. In addition, certification issues will remain a major barrier over the coming years, it adds.
“We believe that the financial market has now realised this, and funding of such projects will become increasingly difficult,” says Gautier. “We believe our partner Dufour Aerospace with its proven tilt wing technology is proposing the best and most efficient aerodynamic solution. As such we are convinced that Dufour products will be a real alternative to helicopters for certain operations such as EMS, performing better at a lower cost.” Air Methods’ selection of Dufour’s drone is a testament to the value and prospects of this programme, he says.
“Generally speaking we believe in the future of drones and eVTOL for EMS and cargo deliveries” says Point. “When the new eVTOL will be able perform a mission currently performed by helicopters at much reduced costs and providing more performance in speed, then will the aircraft’s value be demonstrated.”
Above and top: The Blueberry Aviation team pictured at home in Monaco and at HAI Heli-Expo 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia last month.