Singapore-headquartered Rotortrade, an independent helicopter dealer and sole global distributor of Leonardo’s pre-owned helicopters, has reported steady growth for 2019, reaching 30 bookings within the 12 month period.
“Beyond the number of helicopters, which was in line with our projections for the year, we are especially happy with the mix of helicopters representing more than 150 tons/350,000 pounds across segments and missions, taking into account helicopter empty weights,” says managing partner Aurélien Blanc. “We are proud to have successfully brought to market light single to heavy helicopters in corporate VIP, utility, firefighting, EMS and SAR configurations, managed several large scale returns to service, reconfigurations and customisations and have exported to over 20 different countries. Our presence in all continents enables us to handle cross border transactions more efficiently.”
The company opened two new offices in 2019; in Melbourne, focusing on the ANZ market, and a 3,000 sq ft facility in Marseilles, France. It plans to open one more branch, its ninth, in 2020, with a target of 10 branches located and structured according to market demands. “The helicopter market is very localised, but Rotortrade's global reach ensures we can fully harness global trends and build significant relationships with operators with whom we share the same values and culture,” notes president Philippe Lubrano.
The company believes the helicopter pre-owned market will continue to grow, becoming an option fewer and fewer operators can ignore. Lubrano adds: “There has been a global glut in supply deflating asset prices but beyond that, the market is becoming more professional, providing both buyers and sellers more dependable advice and asset management options.”
Senior partner Raymond Lubrano sees significant room to improve and exciting opportunities for those agile enough: ”Rotortrade is consistently pursuing its drive to enhance the customer experience for helicopter acquisition and divestment. In the pre-owned market notably, the company continues to work with Leonardo and other major OEMs, insisting on quality, proximity and OEM warranty. Today Rotortrade offers AgustaWestland Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) helicopters from Leonardo, has jointly developed an industry leading CPO programme with Pratt & Whitney Canada and a light CPO with Safran Helicopter Engines. Rotortrade is working closely with other major OEMs to follow suit and believes this will dramatically transform the value chain.
Brand new civil turbine sales have gone down to approximately 600 deliveries per year while pre-owned sales have reached 1,500 units yearly. The pre-owned market is now more than 2.5 times bigger than the brand new, and the company says it is no surprise that OEMs are starting to pay attention as trade-in requests are becoming more and more standard.
Rotortrade has found that among the 1,500 pre-owned helicopters changing hands in 2019, 66 per cent were single engine helicopters lead by Bell and Airbus Helicopters (ex-Eurocopter and ex-Aerospatiale) models. In the twin turbine engine segment, the number of sales is inevitably smaller, but the value represents 70 per cent of the pre-owned market. Here, Leonardo Helicopters (ex-AgustaWestland) and Sikorsky take a bigger piece of the pie. And in the heavy category pure civil pre-owned sales remain limited and related to well positioned aircraft (serviceable, hourly programmes, high load configuration etc). Rotortrade does see a measured yet notable resurgence of the AS332 and H225 Super Puma reconfigured from offshore to firefighting and utility.
The average vintage of single engine helicopters sold is slightly higher than that of twin engines: 1997 vs 2000, and the company notes that Leonardo AW helicopters sold have the youngest average year of manufacture (YOM) at 2008. This bodes well for Leonardo models for the coming years. Overall Airbus models are the most popular, despite the average YOM of 2000.
Rotortrade has identified a number of main pre-owned market drivers: type; price; maintainability; customisation; airworthiness authority; age; and life cycle cost.
Type is ultimately a function of brand-new sales popularity, and in a buyer's market price remains the primary factor. As to maintainability, while a helicopter life is theoretically unlimited, spares, experienced personnel and cost-effective MRO options may be limiting factors. The ability to easily retrofit and reconfigure across operators and missions comes into play, as does the airworthiness authority, as FAA or EASA registered helicopters with only FAA/EASA STC'd modifications are more easily exported and operated around the world. Age restrictions apply in certain countries and operational contracts while maintenance and aircraft history may also be an issue, as are projected maintenance costs and resale values across the life cycle.
Rotortrade's recommendations for the pre-owned market cover professionalisation; the market is king; mind your own business; set expectations; and OEM support. It suggests that the pre-owned market has to professionalise and standardise to a higher quality and service standard. Only the market and its combination of buyers and sellers set expectations; listening to the market is not optional. Whether you want to buy or sell, if this is not your primary business, contract a professional you can trust whose only business it is. Pre-owned market fundamentals are similar to any market and you should define your priorities: sell quick or sell at a maximum (market) price, go public or stay private, continue to operate or focus only on selling, consider holding costs, cost of money, investing to support marketability. Likewise on the buy side: define your prerogatives (present and future) and consider the entire life cycle cost and adequacy of the helicopter to well defined needs. Ultimately, it says, OEMs have to provide more (affordable) support options and a wider range of optional equipment and certified retrofits; more mid-life used parts rather than brand new parts to lower direct maintenance costs.