Town Hall: Offshore wind power ‘positive story for helicopters’


The rapidly developing offshore wind power generation industry is “a positive story” for the helicopter sector that will create demand for 126 units, valued at about $1bn, by 2030, according to Steve Robertson, principal and founder of Air & Sea Analytics.

“The current fleet [serving offshore wind power] last year was 29 aircraft,” Robertson told Helicopter Investor’s Town Hall online meeting. “We are expecting this to 126 by 2030 – with the majority of this accounted for by light to medium twins, so 135s, 145s and 189s for heli-hoisting operations.”

But there would also be new demand for heavy lifting helicopter, such as 139s, during the construction phase of offshore wind generation installations, he added. But this growth would be fuelled by the latest models and not become “a dumping ground for unused oil and gas aircraft”. Leading the demand were four countries: the UK, China, Germany and the US.

Faster, safer and less polluting

“This is a good story for the light and medium twin market and a good story for the OEMs servicing this business,” said Robertson. Helicopters offered a faster, safer and less polluting transport solution compared with vessels. “Most of the activity has been in the North Sea. With wave heights – particularly in winter – meaning that you have high availability for helicopters than you would for good old surface vessels.”

Also, the accident rate of helicopters transferring crew offshore is “nearly zero”. In addition, emissions from helicopters ranged from one third to one half less than vessels.

Off-shore power generation had grown significantly from being “a cottage industry,” 10 to 15 years ago, when projects were 5km to 7km offshore. Air & Sea Analytics has identified 1,300 projects being built now or on the drawing board, as part of its forthcoming report. By 2030, nearly half of wind turbines will be located nearly 30kms from shore, bringing vast additional capacity. Robertson estimated there would 300 gigawatts of capacity by the end of the decade with spending on windfarms increasing to $0.5trn.

Escape the impact of the second wave

Turing to oil and gas production, Robertson said the helicopter industry’s ability to adapt was allowing it to escape the impact of the second wave of Covid-19. “The industry’s ability to adapt has allowed it to return almost to a normal level of [flight] activity,” he told delegates. “The latest three-week moving average is sitting 5-10% down on where it was the year before. That’s a pretty good success story for the business when you consider the distress it was in back in May and June.”

Following Robertson’s presentation, Marc Schechter, Thora Capital MD, highlight the prediction of 126 new units by 2030 with a 2018 prediction from Airbus. The OEM had estimated by 2040 the wind industry would need 1,000 helicopters worth $10bn.

Air & Sea Analytics’ prediction covered heli-hoisting and crew transfer not helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) or search and rescue, Robertson responded.

Meanwhile, Helicopter Investor’s Town Hall online meeting took place on January 28th and was sponsored by Aero Asset.

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