HI Uplift: It ain’t heavy – it’s a super-medium*


Super-medium helicopters, like this H175, are attracting renewed industry interest.

Super-medium helicopters, such as the H175, can look forward to a bright future in oil and gas markets, according to Airbus Helicopters. Plus, the manufacturer’s rejuvenated heavy twin, the H225, is also slated for a widescale return to duty in the offshore energy sector (and elsewhere) – at least in the medium term, it claims.

Renewed demand for oil and gas has again sharpened the appetite for high-capacity helicopters. But operators have largely gobbled up stored Sikorsky S-92s. That could mean more interest in super-mediums – such as the H175 and the AgustaWestland AW189. (This week LCI signed a framework agreement for up to 21 new Leonardo helicopters, which includes AW189s).

Airbus Helicopters certainly thinks so. “The H175 is the perfect successor for energy companies in terms of safety, comfort and has lower CO2 emissions than heavier helicopters,” its spokesperson tells Helicopter Investor. The aircraft is well positioned in the market because it offers a range of more than 600nm while providing the best payload (with an external cargo capacity of 2,700kg), which makes it more competitive than the heavier helicopters on the market, the OEM claimed.

Carry up to 18 passengers

The aircraft cruises at 267km/hour (166mph) and can carry up to 18 passengers. Its air-conditioned cabin is said to provide the most volume and window surface per passenger in its class. The manufacturer also highlights its Helionix avionics suite, which is claimed to cut pilot workload through situational awareness, improved flight envelope protection and system redundancy.

“The H175 has been gaining market share steadily in the energy segment, firstly in terms of increasing number of flight hours and more recently in 2023 with an increased level of bookings,” the spokesperson tells us. Airbus booked 14 orders for H175s last year and plans to boost production this year in response to strengthening demand.

Commenting last month, Bruno Even, CEO, Airbus Helicopters said: “We see strong potential for the H175 with the recovery in the oil and gas segment as customers look to replace the S-92.” Over the past year, the manufacturer had seen a significant trend away from heavy helicopters towards super-mediums, he added. Plus, they can also “bring significant value” to the search and rescue (SAR) and VIP transport sectors.

‘I’m convinced the H225 can come back’

Airbus also sees a renewed role in the resurgent oil and gas sector for its H225 twin engine heavy-lift helicopter – despite taking no orders for the Super Puma range last year. “I’m convinced the H225 can come back,” said Even. “We still see the need for heavy lift helicopters for long-range missions beyond 250 miles. The H225 can come back on specific markets.”

The aircraft now has an improved eMGB main gear box, following the crash of a H225 operated by CHC in Norway in 2016. The development of the gearbox – now fitted as standard and with a retrofit option – showed the company’s commitment to the model, said Even. In addition to energy markets, Even highlighted increasing interest from military and civil customers in China, Brazil, and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, last year Airbus Helicopters delivered 346 helicopters and booked 393 net orders compared with 344 deliveries and 362 net orders during 2022. Deliveries remained 20% below pre-Covid level achieved in 2019. The manufacturer claimed 54% of the civil and parapublic market, booking orders from 179 customers in 47 countries.

Supply chain challenges

The manufacturer predicts “continuing market momentum” this yeardespite recurrent supply chain challenges. “During the past two years, Airbus Helicopters has increased its production by more than 60% and suppliers by more than 35%,” the spokesperson told us. “However, we are still seeing some issues. As a consequence, Airbus Helicopters has faced difficulties in meeting our customers’ spare parts and repair needs due to a demand that has grown much faster than our customers’ flight activity.”

As part of its recovery strategy, the company has identified a few hundred critical parts that it is tracking individually to get them to full supply. It has also invested €400m ($433m) in developing its inventories and offering support for critical suppliers, dual sourcing and improving its internal organisation. (The strategy even included acquisitions, such as dynamic components manufacturer ZF Luftfahrttechnik, the completion of which was confirmed last year.) And it has also invested in the buy-back of used aircraft to provide parts for out-of-production aircraft. 

It’s a supply infrastructure that promises to help the manufacturer minimise uncertainties in an increasingly uncertain world. Not least, the company hopes, for its H175 and H225 super-medium and heavy helicopters, as many old S-92s near the end of their primary mission life.

Finally, back to that headline* – apologies to Neil Diamond and the Hollies, who both covered the magnificent ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.’ If you enjoy our newsletters please encourage colleagues to sign up here.  Thanks. 

Equipped with a new main gearbox, Airbus predicts fresh offshore demand for its H225 heavy helicopter.