HI Uplift: HAI Heli-Expo 2023 … in a nutshell


The Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta drew the focus of the global helicopter industry this week, as HAI Heli-Expo 2023 opened its doors to up to 14,0000 industry professionals. Amid the 600-plus exhibits, many companies chose to reveal news about their performance last year and plans for 2023. We take a snapshot look at who was saying what about their business.

Included in our report is news from Aero Asset, Airbus Helicopters, Bell, Blueberry Aviation, Leonardo Helicopters, Milestone Aviation, MD Helicopters, PHI, Rive Private Investment, Sikorsky and Vulcan Aviation.

But we start with a view from the conference floor, courtesy of David Crick, MD of aircraft valuations business DavAir. “The mood seems more optimistic than previous years, with good market demand and plenty of opportunity for participants,” Crick tells Helicopter Investor. “The helicopter market went through five-to-seven years of downturn and now it seems to have bounced a little – people seem of that mindset.”

Preoccupying most operator visitors are questions about aircraft procurement. “No big focus on interest rates or SAF [Sustainable Aviation Fuel] – just where can I get a helicopter for my next contract,” says Crick. “Supply chain restrictions seems to be causing a few headaches however helicopter people are very resilient and working through them after five years of tough markets.”

So, let’s dive into who was revealing what news – starting with helicopter valuations business Aero Asset. The company’s 2022 Heli Market Trends Twin Engine Edition, released at the show, reported that transactions for pre-owned twin engine helicopters fell by 4% last year. The rate at which supply dropped in 2022 slowed, helicopters available for sale dropped by 11% compared with the previous year, leaving the absorption rate at its lowest point in four years.

Valerie Pereira, vice president, Market Research, Aero Asset said: “North America and Europe accounted for 73% of twin engine helicopter resale activity in 2022. Europe saw a 20% decline in transaction volume year-over-year.” But sales of aircraft 20 years and older experienced a strong resurgence compared with 2021.

Airbus Helicopters, in partnership with Genesys Aerosystems launched their development of an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) capability for the H125 (pictured below). Available from the second half of 2024, the upgrade will be available from Airbus Helicopters’ final assembly line in Columbus, Mississippi. The package will consist of an upgraded cockpit and a new autopilot along with redundant hydraulic and electrical systems. Jérome Ronssin, head of Light Helicopters Programme, Airbus Helicopters said: “This new IFR feature will expand the helicopter’s mission capabilities in all-weather conditions especially for critical missions such as public services, including law enforcement, emergency medical services, and enhanced training – all missions that are in high demand worldwide, and in particular in North America.”

Bell Textron made a series of announcements at HAI Heli-Expo 2023. The OEM signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with helicopter distributor, Rotortrade designed to “define optimal pre-owned helicopter solutions to Bell and their customers”. Bell and Rotortrade will explore how they can offer expanded trade-in solutions to its customers, making it easier to upgrade to newer aircraft models and offer more affordable, pre-owned solutions. Also, Rotortrade plans to expand its pre-owned inventory by adding more Bell aircraft to its fleet

There was also news of a signed purchase agreement for a Bell 429 to be operated by World Aviation, the independent representative (IR) for Bell in Spain. The aircraft will be delivered to a private owner and operated for charter and corporate VIP transport in the Costa del Sol and other regions. Based in Malaga, World Aviation specialises in passenger and cargo transportation, VIP transfers and other missions. It also offers pilot training, maintenance, engineering, and other operational services.

Keeping the focus on Europe, Bell revealed purchase agreements for three Bell 407GXi aircraft (model pictured top) in the UK and Ireland. Two aircraft will go to corporate customers in the UK and one will go to Zeus Essential Holding in Ireland. Zeus operates in more than 30 countries providing packing solutions to customers in the industrial and transit, hospitality, retail food service, and agricultural industry.

Turning to Africa, Bell has revealed the delivery of a Bell 429 and a signed purchase agreement for another Bell 429 to customers on the continent. Caverton Helicopters in Cameroon signed a purchase agreement for the first oil and gas configured Bell 429 in West Africa. Its parent company, Caverton Offshore Support Group, provides aviation and marine logistics services to businesses operating in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and across West Africa.

The newly-delivered 429 will be deployed on corporate transportation missions. The global fleet of 430 Bell 429s has logged more than 602,000 global flight hours. Over 20 Bell 429s operate in the Middle East and Africa.

Blueberry Aviation celebrated 20 years in business and its 500th helicopter transaction at HAI Heli-Expo 2023 in Atlanta. The aircraft brokerage and asset management company completed 28 helicopter transactions resulting from sales across all regions. The company claimed to trade more than $1.75bn in rotary assets for over 275 customers since its founding in 2003. (It also completed more than 165 commercial aircraft transactions, performed more than 500 inspections and moved more than $3.5bn worth of assets for over 65 commercial aircraft customers).

Leonardo Helicopters chose the Atlanta event to reveal new global contracts and a partnership for the USA market involving its AW09 helicopter. The OEM said it had signed preliminary sales contracts for more than 50 units with customers worldwide. Those clients include: Aero Service Representação, Brazil, Synerjet Latina SA, Colombia, Peru and Chile, Helitech Asia in South East Asia, Safomar in South Africa, Diskopsa for Panama and Guatemala, Heliflite in Oceania Aero Facility in Japan. Leonardo also chose the Atlanta event to reveal Abu Dhabi Aviation (ADA) had signed a contract to procure six AW139 intermediate twin engine helicopters (pictured). The aircraft are expected to be delivered in between 2024 to 2026 and will be used to perform offshore transport missions.

The OEM further revealed a partnership with Metro Aviation, one of the largest privately-owned US HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) operator and service providers. The agreement supports the introduction and positioning of the AW09 in the country. Gian Piero Cutillo, MD Leonardo Helicopters said: “What we have announced at Heli-Expo is the culmination of three years’ work through which the AW09 benefited from considerable enhancements and has now reached a final configuration, allowing to offer the level of competitiveness that the market expects.”

MD Helicopters and GPMS International have agreed to provide new and existing MD 530F operators with a Foresight MX OEM installation option at MD Helicopters’ facility in Mesa, Arizona. Foresight MX, the predictive Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) is the easiest path to knowing your new aircraft is healthy, said Ronnie Ries, vice president, Marketing, GPMS. “The factory team can utilize Foresight’s advanced capabilities to monitor the aircraft’s health during testing and show the results to their customers during delivery,” he added.

Milestone Aviation released news of a four-helicopter lease deal to offshore helicopter operator HeliService International. This includes the placement of two Leonardo AW139 helicopters. The first was delivered recently, with the second scheduled for delivery next month. Both aircraft will operate for HeliService’s offshore wind farm operations in the German Bight, the southeastern region of the North Sea.

Milestone also finalised a financing agreement for two new Leonardo AW169 helicopters to provide offshore services in support of wind projects in Taiwan. Both aircraft are slated for delivery in mid-year 2023.

And the lessor concluded a five-helicopter lease deal with Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco. The deal includes the placement of three Leonardo AW139 helicopters and two Airbus H145 helicopters. The five new aircraft will be deployed on offshore oil and gas missions in Saudi Arabia, with deliveries scheduled to take place throughout this year.

PHI MRO Services announced at the event that it has been appointed a Sikorsky-authorised Customer Support Center for the S-92 helicopter and the S-76C series helicopter. Tom Neumann, president, PHI MRO Services said: “With 74 years of experience, our entire team, from engineers to aircraft maintenance technicians, are ready for anything—including heavy maintenance and specialised completions.”

RIVE Private Investment revealed a partnership with Airbus Helicopters for the acquisition of eight H175s to serve the energy and search-and-rescue (SAR) industries between 2024 and 2026. The deal underlined the European investment firm’s commitment to sustainability topics, it said. “The H175 generates 25% fewer emissions than heavy helicopters in the industry and is the quietest in its class,” according to RIVE.

Sikorsky, celebrating its centenary, announced it is producing a a Hybrid-Electric Demonstrator (HEX). This will be a fully-autonomous hybrid-electric vertical-take-off-and-landing (eVTOL) prototype. With a maximum gross weight of more than 7,000lbss, the uncrewed aircraft will be a flying test-bed to evaluate large aircraft design, novel propulsion systems and control architectures for sustained hover, and ranges greater than 500 nautical miles.

Paul Lemmo, president. Sikorsky said the HEX aircraft will provide key insights into the possibilities of electric systems in VTOL aircraft. “Ultimately, we want to show the potential of large, advanced air mobility vehicles to perform utility missions for the US military and transport passengers between cities.”

Vulcan Aviation revealed news of a fresh equity joint venture arrangement for rotary wing sales with Kaan Air, of Istanbul, Turkey. The new venture, Vulkaan Helicopters, will focus on the sale of large cabin, helicopters such as the AW139 and AW189 in the UK and Ireland. The new company will also sell pre-owned helicopter.

Ferda Yildiz, chairman, Kaan Air said the joint venture was the culmination of more than a year’s discussion. “Working with Vulkaan and promoting the sale of large cabin helicopters such as the AW139 and AW189, we look forward to expanding our capabilities into the UK and Irish markets; collectively the fifth largest civil helicopter market in the world,” he said.

Meanwhile, there’s still time to book your place at our Helicopter Investor London 2023 conference at the Royal Garden Hotel on March 22nd and 23rd. Take a look at our action-packed, deep-dive agenda here and book your place at Helicopter Investor London 2023 here.

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