EBACE Interview: Philip Queffelec on buyer trends and Switzerland’s helicopter market


Philip G Queffelec loves helicopters. That’s immediately apparent to anyone who talks to him. Whilst one of the company he chairs, Sparfell & Partners, sells both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, he is himself a helicopter pilot – owning his own Leonardo AW109.

In his earlier years, M. Queffelec was the founder of business aircraft leasing firm Air Engineering Finance, which later became the sole distributor of McDonnell Douglas helicopters in France and Benelux. The company later merged to create Air Hanson Aircraft Trading. He also formed Masterjet, one of the biggest European VVIP airlines.

Now he has settled as the chairman of Sparfell Aviation Group, an aviation services group that buys, sells (Sparfell & Partners) and leases (SILC) airliners, business jets and helicopters. The group also includes Sparfell Defence and Sparfell Design in order to answer all market demands. However, M. Queffelec is most confident in the helicopter market right now – coming out of an oil and gas downturn and riding high on new opportunities in the VIP helicopter space.

Helicopter Investor sat down with M. Queffelec at EBACE 2018 to talk about VIPs, what they are buying and helicopters as an alternative to business jets in Europe.

HI: How is business?

PQ: More and more people are using helicopters. They are seeing the benefits of helicopter flight over cars or jets. Especially in a country like Switzerland where to go from one side to the other it will take just over an hour via helicopter but 5-6 by car.

I think Switzerland is the perfect country for helicopters. A lot of people around here are now considering it. If you are working in Geneva and travelling to Gstaad on the weekend it takes around three hours to travel by car, it would take 30 minutes to fly it in a helicopter. When people experience the benefits of flying in a helicopter, they get used to it and want their own.

These people we are targeting will also be using it as a business tool. Buying a helicopter and using it for business as well as for the luxury.

We have also had a lot of interest in our display helicopter here at EBACE.

HI: So are you seeing a lot of local customers then?

PQ: We definitely are seeing a lot of interest. In the VIP market specifically, we are seeing people interested in the AW139 for VIP use. It is probably the best aircraft for VIP operations on the market right now. The AW109 is generally the choice of the pilots – I own one myself – as it is fun to fly, but the AW139 is what people are buying most in the VIP market.

The aircraft is relatively cheap to fly and maintain. I previously owned a Sikorsky S76+, the cost of operation was very high and the technology was getting older – these new helicopters offer newer technologies and cost less.

HI: Is the DOC a core consideration for VIP buyers?

PQ: Yes, a helicopter is a large investment upfront but they also cost a lot to run. When I had the Sikorsky, I was only flying it about 50-60 hours a year and the cost of the maintenance per year was almost £200,000. Now, with newer aircraft, the cost is reduced. An aircraft like the AW109 will cost you about 40% of the Sikorsky to operate.

HI: Aside from locally, where are your customers coming from?

PQ: We have a lot of customers coming from the Middle East right now as well as Africa. We are just coming out of an oil-and-gas downturn, so we are also seeing more business here as well.

I am more confident about the helicopter market than the jet market right now. There are more opportunities coming out for different missions in different regions. People are realising that point-to-point travel over 400-500 nautical miles is best done by helicopter.

I have a customer in Paris, he was flying from Paris to London, to his 2nd home. He is flying from Paris to Farnborough on a G65- and having to fly via helicopter from Farnborough to Battersea. Now he has bought a AW169 and he is flying direct to Battersea on a 1 hour or so flight. I think more people are realising this and making the transition.

HI: Are customers realising that Helicopters are more than a utility but are also a luxury?

PQ: Yes, one of the Swiss billionaires here has a property nearby but he is an entrepreneur and needs to travel. He needs to fly to Milano, South of France, London. He has just realised now that going to the airport and having to waste two hours going through security and waiting for a private or first-class flight is not necessary. He has started flying on a helicopter now and is landing some flights before he would have taken off on a commercial flight. He would have never considered this before but is considering purchasing one now.

HI: Is this mainly happening in Europe?

PQ: Yes, the UK is the best country for helicopters right now and its where most of the VIP helicopters are. In France you have a very small number but that’s changing. Across Europe people are picking up on this and starting to consider helicopters for VIP flight.

HI: Any upcoming helicopters you think will be a hit in the business aviation space?

PQ: The H160 certainly looks interesting, but it is having issues right now and is late to the market. The technology behind it will, I am sure, be great. However right now we are in a good space, Bell’s 429 is a great light twin-engine alternative to the AW109.

HI: Is there growth potential for the VVIP market outside of UK?

PQ: Definitely. those who can afford to buy either a jet or a helicopter are now realising the practicalities helicopters can have over jets. If you wanted to fly out of here at EBACE, as so many EasyJet flights fly out of Geneva Airport, you might need to wait for the runway to be clear as well as drive to the airport. If you were flying in a helicopter, you could take off from the tarmac here.

The way you sell people on the idea is to get them to test it for themselves. We approach a customer and ask when their next flight is, and we just say “why not try a helicopter this time”. As soon as the customer is in the helicopter, he or she realises the benefits and can get from point A to point B without any hassle or other means of transport.

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