HI Uplift: HAI returns to Anaheim … in search of lift


Visitors returned to HAI Heli-Expo in Anaheim last week after a gap of four years.

Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald Duck and pals normally pull the crowds to Anaheim, California. But last week, there was another star attraction. HAI Heli-Expo was back in town, drawing visitors from around the world after a gap of four years. And many brought their pocketbooks.

Hundreds of new orders and agreements to buy plus partnerships were revealed, as a resurgent global helicopter industry struggled to find lift – particularly medium and heavy lift. Most of the big manufacturers announced swelled order books, with Leonardo Helicopters and Airbus Helicopters both unveiling 100-plus aircraft deals with the same customer – The Helicopter Company (THC).

Bell disclosed signing the first purchase agreement for its new 525 helicopter. Oil company Equinor is buying 10 Bell 525s for its North Sea operations. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2026. 

Leonardo confirmed orders and agreements for about 180 units at the show. Topping its order book are 130 helicopters of various types from THC, 30 helicopters from Metro Aviation, 10 orders for AW189s from Bristow and nine orders for AW09s and AW109s from UK and Ireland distributor Sloane Helicopters.

Emergency medical services

The deal with THC covers 20 AW139s plus a framework agreement for more than 130 helicopters. THC is acquiring the aircraft to strengthen its emergency medical services (EMS) and search and rescue (SAR) missions alongside passenger transport in the country. Deliveries of the AW139s are expected in 2025 and 2026. (The intention to buy the 20 AW139s was announced at last year’s Heli-Expo).

The framework agreement for over 130 aircraft includes AW109s, AW169s, AW139s and AW189Ks for various applications. Initial deliveries are scheduled for the first half of this year and expected to run for the next seven years.

Metro Aviation, the US privately-owned HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) operator and service provider, signed a distributor agreement for the AW09 next generation single engine helicopter. Metro will act as Leonardo’s distributor for the type in North America for all civil market applications. The deal specifies a commitment for 30 helicopters that will translate into preliminary sales contracts.

Fleet expansion

From Bristow, Leonardo logged a new AW189 framework agreement for 10 firm orders plus 10 options supporting the operator’s fleet expansion plans from 2025 to 2028. Bristow uses the AW189 in its offshore Energy Services business and its Government Services business supporting SAR operations in the UK, the Netherlands and, from next year, in Ireland.

UK and Ireland operator and distributor Sloane Helicopters is to extend its partnership with Leonardo after signing preliminary sales contracts for nine AW09 next-generation single engine aircraft, and new orders for two AW109 Grand New and two AW109 Trekker light twins.

THC, owned by Saudia Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, agreed more purchases with Airbus. It signed a 120-aircraft deal – including firm orders for eight H125s and 10 H145s, converted options from an earlier contract – specifying delivery over the next five to seven years.

The latest agreement brings THC’s firm orders from Airbus Helicopters to 60, with 25 aircraft already in service. The new H125s will support THC’s aerial work and tourism, while the H145s will be deployed on a variety of missions including EMS and corporate transport.

Airbus Helicopters ended the show with 155 commitments, including 40 firm orders, from customers worldwide for a variety of its multi-mission helicopters.

Tourism company Niagara Helicopters also placed an order for six H130 helicopters, representing the full renewal of its fleet

First Bell 525 sale

Marking the first Bell 525 purchase agreement, Danny Maldonado, chief commercial officer said: “Our relationship with Equinor will enhance the standard of innovation for oil and gas missions and North Sea operations. The Bell 525 technology provides a generational leap forward and will revolutionise offshore oil and gas operations by providing enhanced safety capabilities, reliability and optimised operations.”

Bell also revealed the delivery of three SUBARU Bell 412PXs; two to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and one to San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. It also sealed an order for four Bell 429s for parapublic operations in the Middle East.

The manufacturer appointed Abu Dhabi Aviation to as an authorised Bell Customer Service Facility (CSF) to provide support for the Bell 212, Bell 412 and the SUBARU Bell 412EPX. 

Heavy lift, tandem rotor specialist Columbia Helicopters unveiled plans to build a new model its CH-47D Chinook aircraft to be designated the 234SP Chinook. The new helicopter is planned to launch in 2025 with a delivery to current CH-47D operator, ROTAK of Anchorage, Alaska. Columbia also sealed a partnership with Genesys Aerosystems to develop and certify a new digital cockpit for the Model 234 Chinook.

Tiltrotor development was the subject of a new memorandum of understanding signed by Bell and Leonardo. Lisa Atherton, president and CEO, Bell said: “This cooperative effort between Bell and Leonardo reflects our shared vision that next generation rotorcraft will be influenced by the speed, range and manoeuvrability only tiltrotor technology can deliver.”

S-92 helicopters

Lessor Milestone revealed a series of new lease agreements at the show covering seven medium and heavy helicopters. The deals included: two Leonardo AW139 helicopters with German operator Lufttransport and three heavy helicopters with the Chinese CITIC Offshore Helicopter Company Limited (COHC). This lease specifies the placement of two Sikorsky S-92 helicopters and one Airbus H225. All will be configured for offshore passenger transport and will be deployed on offshore oil and gas missions from COHC’s Shenzhen base.

Two more S-92 leases were signed – one for China Southern Airlines General Aviation (CSAGA) and another with Brazilian offshore operator Líder Aviação. Configured for offshore passenger transport, the S-92 will support Líder’s operations for Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras. 

Operating lessor LCI unveiled a new partnership with Airbus Helicopters designed to address the long-term industry’s capacity, sustainability and financing requirements. The manufacturer predicts demand for more than 16,000 new helicopters by 2041, with a combined value of up to $130bn. The new partnership, Flight Path, will see LCI and Airbus Helicopters use their combined knowledge, experience and analytical capabilities to identify the infrastructure and financial innovations that will address this demand.

Optimism on show

Meanwhile, writing before this week’s event, Steve Robertson, MD, LCI Analytics thought there was justification for the optimism on show in Anaheim four years ago to continue. Underlying levels of fleet renewal have been low in recent years, he wrote. Also, the implementation of the latest safety standards in the offshore market and the modernisation of the rotary fleet promise opportunities in the years ahead. But significant challenges remain to be overcome – not least, supply-side, supply-chain constraints and financing challenges.

Finally, Robertson hoped:Notwithstanding such challenges, perhaps  the hardworking helicopter executives will find a moment to wave back at Mickey and Minnie.”


Final preparations before show time.

HI Uplift Dashboard: Helicopters for sale

Multi engine

  • Total for sale/lease: 308 – two fewer than last week
  • Percentage for sale/lease: 4.09
  • Absorption rate: 5.36
  • Total fleet: 7,523 – two more than last week.

Single engine

  • Total for sale/lease: 414 – four more than last week
  • Percentage for sale/lease: 3.58
  • Absorption rate: 4.36
  • Total fleet: 11,553 – three fewer than last week.

   Source: AMSTAT, March 1st, 2024.