HI Uplift: Sikorsky committed to civil helicopters for ‘many decades’

The Sikorsky S-92 fleet's total flight hours now total 2.3m.

The Sikorsky S-92 fleet has logged 2.3m flight hours.

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company pledged its long-term commitment to the civil rotary market, including its S-92 aircraft, at our recent Helicopter Investor London 2024 conference.

“We’ve been in the business on the commercial side for 60 years and we are not projecting the need to exit the market. It is a strong business and a strong market for us,” said Leon Silva, vice president of Global Commercial & Military Systems for Lockheed Martin Corporation. “It will be many, many decades in which we will remain in the civil helicopter market.”

In a wide-ranging panel debate, spanning the rise of super-mediums and supply chain challenges, Sikorsky acknowledged the need for a diversified fleet. “We understand there is room for other types. The S-92 has been a successful product since its launch,” said Silva. “There are missions that could be done [by lighter types]. If you could go with a pick-up [vehicle], you might not need a Mack Truck.”

‘Go with a pick-up’

His view found favour with other panellists, based on the structure of the heavy helicopter population, as described by panel moderator Brad Shaen, founder and director, International Aviation Marketing. He described the fleet as including: the Sikorsky S-92 (263 units in service), Airbus H225/EC225 (130 in service) Leonardo AW189 (83 in service), Airbus H175 (57 in service) and Bell 525 (with four development aircraft).

Tim Evans, director, 525 Business Development, Bell Flight agreed that in the short term at least there is room for all helicopter types flying different missions and different roles. “In the longer term, as OEMs we are trying to put our graph on the market. To say all types will survive is a little bit naïve,” he said. “We are trying to make money on these aircraft, so I think space is going to be limited.”

Evans from Bell – whose super-medium B525 Relentless is said to be nearing FAA certification – admitted: “We are all chasing the S-92 [market] and we all want to grab some of that replacement space.” To which Silva quipped: “We are happy to be the target.”

A more inclusive view came from David Prevor, head of Marketing, Airbus Helicopters who thought there was space for all the helicopter types identified by Shaen. But he acknowledged: “At the end of the day, we may finish with less than the list we see here.”

‘Working on the H225’

There is a place for the heavy helicopter, said Prevor, which is why we are “working on the H225 to bring it up to date and back to the marketplace”. Plus, the S-92 will eventually be retired, he added. After the S-92’s launch in 2004, the first models are starting to reach 20 years of age – generally considered the end of primary mission life – with 10 to 15 aircraft a year ageing out up to 2030. (The S-92 fleet has just logged a total of 2.3m flight hours, according to Sikorsky).

How the market will adjust to heavy helicopters plus increasing numbers of super-mediums was “the big question” for Roberto Garavaglia, senior vice president, Strategy & Innovation, Leonardo Helicopter Division. Leonardo’s plan with the AW189, launched at the Paris International Air Show of 2011, was to offer an aircraft with general parameters of the AW139 but with four more seats and longer legs, he said. “If you can still get there and accomplish the mission, probably a smaller module is what you want to have. Smaller is probably better, more elastic and more efficient,” he said.

The key determinants are payload, pricing and relatively simplicity of maintenance – all of which super-mediums delivered, according to Leonardo.

Evans agreed: “It comes down to payload and range. The one that can grab that in the most efficient way is the one that is going to succeed.”

‘The tipping point’

The next decade will see a crossover between heavy and super-medium helicopters, said Garavaglia. “The tipping point could be in about 10 or 12 years, when the super-mediums could be with us in greater numbers than the larger helicopters,” he said. “But there are missions where heavy helicopters – with their longer legs – will be needed for ever.”

All the manufacturers agreed it was important to consider a new helicopter’s secondary and tertiary mission life in the design and building stages. “When you look at senior assets like the Bell 412 and Bell 212, they have been flying for 50-plus years,” said Evans. “So, yes, we absolutely are taking secondary markets into account.”

Using the Bell 525 as an example, while the helicopter will initially be focused on the oil and gas market, the manufacturer is also looking at other segments. These include search and rescue (SAR), para-military missions and presidential flights. “Hopefully, these applications will give you a 30- or 40-year horizon,” said Evans.

‘Three heads-of-state aircraft’

VIP helicopters is a key market for Sikorsky. Most of the manufacturer’s recent commercial sales have been to VIP and head-ofstate clients. “While we are very focused on the offshore oil market, we are planning to deliver three heads of state aircraft this year,” said Silva. “The S-92 is currently servicing [13] head of state customers around the world with 50 aircraft in that category.” Plus, the manufacturer has at least a 30-year commitment to the 23 aircraft in the US presidential fleet. So, it’s not just the oil companies that are seeking to diversify their revenue streams, he added.

Turning to the vexed question of supply chain challenges, Bell has been fortunate to mitigate the difficulties by building up a large inventory of spare parts. “But managing a supply line is always a challenge,” said Evans.

Sikorsky has modified its supply model after learning from the challenges of recent years. “We used to be very focused on just-in-time and we are formally changing that,” said Silva. “We are seeing the recovery of the S-92 [supply line] and the challenges we have had along the way. Things are improving but it does take time.”

Speakers were taking part in the panel session ‘The heavy helicopter market’ at our Helicopter Investor London 2024 conference staged at the Landmark Hotel London on June 5th and 6th.

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Sikorsky's Leon Silva repeated the firm's commitment to the civil helicopter market including its S-92s.

Sikorsky’s Leon Silva re-pledged the firm’s commitment to the civil helicopter market, including its S-92s aircraft.


HI Uplift Dashboard: Helicopters for sale

Multi engine

  • Total for sale/lease: 312
  • Percentage for sale/lease: 4.22
  • Absorption rate: 5.72
  • Total fleet: 7,399.

Single engine

  • Total for sale/lease: 408
  • Percentage for sale/lease: 3.56
  • Absorption rate: 3.56
  • Total fleet: 11,473.

Source: Amstat, July 5th, 2024.