Airbus Helicopters hails the Covid bounce back … with a warning


Airbus Helicopters has hailed a bounce back in orders and deliveries in 2021, while warning that it could take up to three years for the industry to recover to pre-Covid levels. The OEM also highlighted challenges in the offshore oil and gas market, while expressing confidence in the prospects for its super medium H175 model.

The manufacturer’s CEO Bruno Even revealed a 40% increase in orders last year compared with 2020, thanks mainly to public sector investment. New orders last year reached 414 net (419 gross), up from 268 in the previous year, he told a press briefing on Wednesday (January 26th).

Helicopter deliveries totalled 338 units last year, up from 300 in 2020. This led the OEM to claim an estimated 52% share of the civil and parapublic helicopter market.

“It was a strong performance in 2021,” said Even. “Particularly in the civil market, there was a strong market share in terms of bookings in the range of 60%. The light helicopter – H125 and H130 family – were close to 200 bookings, which shows a good recovery compared with 2020. We know, based on experience, the light helicopter is always the range where we see the first sign of recovery. It’s looking positive – not only for 2021 but the years to come.”

But full recovery could take up to three years, he warned. “It will take two to three years to recover the [industry’s] normal level of activity before the Covid crisis, not to the level of six, seven or eight years ago,” said Even. “North America and Europe will continue to be the main drivers of recovery.” VIP transport, tourism and medical markets offered particularly strong prospects for growth.

Demand for helicopters serving the offshore oil and gas sector is likely to remain under pressure. Airbus announced four orders for the super-medium H175 and 10 for the heavy Super Puma twin. “The requests for super medium and heavy helicopters are still low, which started with the oil and gas crisis that we have seen in the past.” But the lack of demand reflected the challenges of the market rather than the design of the H175. “Our analysis for the H175, shows the main challenge is more a market challenge than the competitiveness of the helicopter. We don’t see yet the market recovering.” The industry’s response to the H175’s performance, cabin and price, had all proved encouraging, he added.

But Airbus did predict sales opportunities in the oil and gas sector generated by the renewal of the aging existing fleet.

Selecting highlights from the past year, Even picked out launching the H160M for the French armed forces’ joint light helicopter programme, the new service package HCare Classics for the OEM’s legacy helicopters and the delivery of the first H160 to Japanese operator All Nippon Helicopter. Other highlights included continuing to pioneer sustainable aviation fuel and developing urban air mobility with the launch of CityAirbus NextGen.

Airbus Helicopters has already conducted single engine tests using sustainable aviation fuel and expected to run twin engine tests this year. Also developing a fully electric vehicle for the Urban Air Mobility market has contributed to Airbus Helicopters’ decision to recruit 500 people this year.

Looking forward to the commercialisation of eVTOLs, Even predicted they would complement services currently offered by helicopters not compete with them. But before eVTOLs became a practical commercial proposition, big advances were needed in the field of battery technology plus progress in advanced air mobility infrastructure in the form of traffic management regulatory controls and ecosystems.

Meanwhile, watch out for next week’s newsletter, which explores in more detail the likely relationship between helicopters and commercial eVTOLs.


Airbus Helicopters 2021 performance – at a glance

  • 419 gross orders (net: 414) compared with 289 gross (268 net) in 2020
  • 67 customers signing orders in 45 countries
  • 338 aircraft delivered
  • Rising orders for light helicopters, H125 and H130, reflects the recovery of the civil and parapublic market
  • Deliveries rose from 300 in 2020 to 338 in 2021, contributing to Airbus Helicopters’ preliminary 52 % share of the civil and parapublic market
  • France ordered 40 H160s (civil and military versions), eight H225Ms & two H145s
  • Spain ordered 36 H135s
  • Germany ordered eight H145s for Bavarian police force.