HI Uplift: First US offshore wind helis delivered by LCI to speed ‘$12bn/year market’


The US is receiving delivery of its first two dedicated helicopters to serve the offshore wind power sector from operating lessor LCI. The leases, which are expected to contribute to the rapid growth of a $12bn/year market, cover two Leonardo AW169 helicopters. Supplied to HeliService USA, they will support offshore wind operations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, off the country’s northern east coast.

Jaspal Jandu, CEO, LCI explains the potential growth of the new sector. “Offshore wind has become a major global industry and helicopters have become a key part of the supply chain in construction and maintenance,” Jandu tells Helicopter Investor. “New investment in the sector is predicted to hit half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, supporting local infrastructure and jobs.”

Helicopters enter the emerging US offshore wind power sector with a proven operational track record in regions such as Europe, he adds. “The US is well versed in the effective utility of helicopters, and this combination augers well for the fast-growing future of vertical lift in the offshore wind market.”

The AW169 aircraft will be operated by HeliService USA in support of Ørsted and General Electric contracts based in Quonset, Rhode Island and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Both will be tasked with crew change missions and wind turbine maintenance. The aircraft, one of which is new, are valued at more than $20m and are designed to perform a range of operations. Equipped with hoisting systems to airlift technicians to and from wind turbines, the helicopters can operate across a variety of sea states.

Helicopters’ green credentials were highlighted by Jandu, who described their contribution not only as mission-critical but also socially responsible. Modern helicopters emit up to five times less CO2 per passenger compared with offshore crew transfer vessels and they will underpin the growth of this exciting new energy future,” he says.

Steve Robertson, founder and principal, Air & Sea Analytics agrees. He also highlights helicopters’ improved safety record compared with ships and acceptance in the US. “These aircraft offer the safest, fastest and lowest CO2 emissions,” he tells Helicopter Investor. “Both the client and the local population are familiar with the value proposition of the helicopter. There’s an acceptance in the US that helicopters get the job done – and are used for everything from news cameras and aerial crop spraying to offshore oil and gas transfers.”

The US government has committed to a new clean energy industry, with a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy by 2030, and 110GW by 2050. Meeting the 2030 target will trigger more than $12bn per year in capital investment and create 77,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to LCI. It will also generate enough power to meet the demand of more than 10m American homes for a year and avoid 78m tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Robertson, who has been tracking the offshore wind market for about 20 years, is excited by the market’s potential. He sees a key difference between the US and European projects. “The large scale of the US wind farms [off the US east coast] is really exciting because it’s starting with a blank sheet of paper, as to how you plan the operation,” he says. European wind farms 20 years ago were small projects of 10 to 15 3-megawatt (MW) turbines sited a few miles offshore. But current US projects focus on 10-15MW turbines up to 45 miles offshore. These demand fast, safe and low emissions helicopter transfers to replace more polluting service vessels. (Their already slow speed is further restricted by the need to comply with protection measures for whales and other sea life in the area).

So, how big can the offshore market grow – and what will that mean for the global helicopter fleet? Air & Sea Analytics is updating its forecasts – having previously predicted that the market would create demand for 126 units, valued at about $1bn by 2030. But, as an indicator of expected exponential growth, Robertson says the 2020 prediction of 20GWs of installed capacity by 2030 has now risen to 35GWs. The USA could realistically expect to see at least two dozen dedicated offshore wind rotorcraft by 2033.

Which means more missions for HeliService USA two AW169 helicopters and all the other helicopters in the global fleet. The first HeliService Aw169 has already made a busy start. (Robertson tracked the first AW169 flying five missions last Wednesday).

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