HI Uplift: New lessor launch backed by 70-unit order book


Michael York has launched GDHF with an order book of 50 H160s and 20 H175s.

Michael York is a man on a mission. Three days into his role as CEO of newly launched helicopter leasing and finance company GD Helicopter Finance (GDHF), he has a long to-do list. And a 70-helicopter order book comprising 50 H160s and 20 H175s.

Topping that list is establishing the new Dublin-based finance company, backed by Chinese banks and investors, and building a team to deliver something new to the rotary finance business. Target markets are offshore energy generation, search and rescue (SAR), emergency medical services (EMS) and parapublic markets worldwide.

Something new in helicopter leasing? The points of differentiation will be the availability of latest technology aircraft, capital and customer-focused service, says York. First, the helicopters. “We have 50 H160s on order with near-term availability – starting with three models this year,” he tells Helicopter Investor on Wednesday (April 24th). From next year, he expects to receive five new H160s each year for the next nine-and-a-half years.

The orders come courtesy of GDHF company owner Peter Jiang, also the founder and chairman of Chinese helicopter operator GDAT.

20 H175 helicopters

Added to the order book yesterday were 20 H175 helicopters, comprising 10 firm orders and 10 options, with the first H175 delivery this year.

Now is a great time to launch the new business, he believes. After a long downturn, supply and demand balance has once again returned to the global helicopter market, he tells us. “What users are paying for helicopter services has increased dramatically over the past two years. That has put vitality through the entire value chain – all the way back to the OEM.” Key lessons have been learnt from the over-investment and over-production of the past – with discipline an important hallmark of today’s industry, judges York.

‘Let’s not go there again’

For five years, between 2015 to 2020, helicopter operators were in many cases providing helicopter services below the true cost of operation, he says. The result was operators going into Chapter 11 protection and lessors going bankrupt.

“Let’s not go there again. Now people in the industry are being very disciplined and you have the economics now that support investment in the right technology. Plus, all the numbers are right, or we wouldn’t be starting this venture.”

Key drivers of those numbers for the fledgling lessor are burgeoning world energy markets and the ageing offshore fleet that is growing ever riper for replacement by the day. In the heavy and medium sector, a growing number of S-92 early models are approaching 20 years of age – deemed to be the end of primary mission life in the offshore oil and gas market.

Over the next eight years, between 80 to 100 S-92 helicopters will “age out”, demanding replacement with new helicopters – and therefore replacement finance. He judges there are about 190 S-92s operating today in the offshore oil and gas market and about 65 to 70 newer model super-mediums.

It’s not just S-92s that are showing the effects of time. In the medium space, a reasonable number of models – early AW139s and other types – also need to be replaced each year.

‘Struggle for near-term availability’

Enter the Airbus H160. “There’s always demand for the most cost-effective and efficient western technology aircraft and the H160 is that for sure,” he says. “Plus, what we are seeing at present is a struggle for near-term availability in the market. It’s very hard to get additional helicopters now, because they are all flying and they are all on lease. The lessors have none readily available.”

While owned by GDAT and 100% backed by Chinese capital, the new business will remain independent of its giant owner. York describes it as “a globally-focussed, Dublin-based helicopter leasing business”, headquartered in Ireland and drawing all its finance (for now) from China.

But GDHF’s market pitch extends beyond simply hardware and money. “It’s not just turning up with product – we are bringing our expertise and an agile entrepreneurial mindset. We are nimble and capable of being very flexible and providing solutions.”

York is determined that his team – currently five strong but soon to grow – will be very customer focused. “We have the aircraft and we have the money. Also, we will quickly build a reputation as being nice people to do business with. It’s a big differentiator – we want to be very flexible and customer centric.”

Assets under management valued at €1bn

His 10-year objective is to achieve assets under management valued at €1bn ($1.07bn), based on a portfolio of H160s, H175, AW139s and AW189s. York’s mid-term ambition, to be realised by 2030, is different. “I’d like us to have a reputation and a culture of extreme customer service, flexibility, speed and agility,” he tells us. “Building relationships of high trust are everything.”

It’s all a lot to take on – but ex-military pilot York is used to operating under pressure. Formerly the youngest Seahawk pilot with the Royal Australian Navy, York’s logbooks contain thousands of hours as a fighter pilot and F/A-18 Hornet fast jet instructor. But it is on finance rather than flying that he has chosen to focus his career. Armed with an MBA from the University of Newcastle, Australia and a Bachelor of Science degree (University of New South Wales), York decided to specialise in aviation finance. He joins GDHF after nearly nine years with the world’s largest helicopter lessor Milestone Aviation, latterly as head of Emerging Markets.

New business partners

And for the future, York is open to considering new business partners and sources of finance. “We are always open to any conversation [with new finance partners] – that’s part of our flexibility piece. We’ll talk to any market participant about their needs whether that’s a lessor, MRO, OEM, operator and end user, if it makes sense for us to help,” says York.

Plus, the new company is not limiting itself to Chinese-sourced finance. “We are not opposed to western capital,” York tells us. “In these early days, we have a capital flow plan from Chinese banks and investors. But we are setting up a Dublin-based leasing company with a global focus. So, where it makes sense to get capital from western banks, we will do that. This is not solely a Chinese capital story.”

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GDHF added 20 H175s to its order book yesterday.


HI Uplift Dashboard: Helicopters for sale

Multi engine

  • Total for sale/lease: 318 – one more than two weeks ago
  • Percentage for sale/lease: 4.21
  • Absorption rate: 5.92
  • Total fleet: 7,546 – 13 more than two weeks ago.

Single engine

  • Total for sale/lease: 415 – 11 more than two weeks ago
  • Percentage for sale/lease: 3.58
  • Absorption rate: 3.8
  • Total fleet: 11,587 – 10 more than two weeks ago.

  Source: AMSTAT, April 26th, 2024.