Italy, Turkey, Russia and eastern Europe are in the vanguard of emerging market demands that are helping to push corporate and charter helicopter sales to greater heights.
Djani Bodlovic of Helifor, which is launching a Croatia headquartered operation based on PZL-Swidnik Sokols, says: "The European market carries a permanent need for reliable twin turbine helicopters and experienced crews, and we have both."
Typically, the new company is already looking at expansion. "It is possible that we will extend our service offering to aerial works, fire fighting, search and rescue and all kind of utility works," Bodlovic adds. The manufacturers' response to the demand of entrepreneurs and established companies includes AgustaWestland's opening of a new regional business headquarters in Turkey and Eurocopter's increasing sales and marketing presence in Russia, Poland and Romania.
"AgustaWestland has progressively increased its presence and share of the Turkish helicopter market in recent years," says Giuseppe Orsi, ceo, AgustaWestland. "We see significant future business oppor-tunities in Turkey."
Kaan Havacilik of Turkey has taken delivery of its first two AW109s in six seat and exclusive five seat Elite vip/corporate transport configuration. The six seat configured helicopter will be operated by the Turkish company Halikarnas. Kaan Havacilik, headquartered in Istanbul, provides helicopter sales and services including executive air transport and air tours. It is also the distributor in Turkey for AgustaWestland's commercial helicopters and has purchased an AW119 Ke as well as a Grand light twin and an AW139 medium twin.
Founded in 1989 to offer public sea transport, Halikarnas expanded into water and oil transport in 1992 and 1993. It is also active in shipping, ship building, chemical transport, highway tunnelling and marina building.
Orsi says: "Several AgustaWestland commercial helicopters of different types have been ordered in Turkey by various customers. We can confirm major results in the commercial helicopter market for vip/corporate transport and EMS applications." He says the AW109 Power is the most successful AgustaWestland commercial helicopter model in the country. "It has been chosen by local operators to perform executive transport and emergency medical service operations. It is also ideally suited for EMS purposes."
Separately AgustaWestland and Alitalica of Italy have signed a collaboration agreement to establish a helicopter hub in Italy at Rome's Urbe Airport (EBAN May) supporting the growth of the vip/corporate helicopter market in Rome and southern Italy. Demand for business versions is reflected by the expansion of the AgustaWestland Italian Corporate Pilot Club, a forum that is being used by pilots to exchange information on operational and other areas of common interest.
Meanwhile in Russia Oboronprom Corporation and AgustaWestland have started large-scale long-term cooperation. A May 2008 agreement between AgustaWestland, Oboronprom Corporation and Loyd's Investments Corporation provides for the acquisition of AgustaWestland helicopters to the approximate value of euro;450 million up to 2012. Commitments for 2008 include 10 helicopters to the total value of around €65 million comprising two AW119 Ke single engines, two AW109 Powers, four Grand light twins and two AW139 medium twin helicopters. The agreement also provides for marketing of AgustaWestland helicopters in Russia as well as in the majority of CIS helicopter markets.
Targets are the vip, corporate transport, oil and energy support and EMS sectors. Oboronprom Corporation and AgustaWestland will establish a number of maintenance centres for AgustaWestland helicopters in Russia. The partners envisage that this will be followed by a joint production agreement of AgustaWestland helicopters in Russia for both domestic and international markets.
Orsi says: "We see the Russian and CIS markets as very important with the potential to generate significant future business opportunities. Already, prior to this agreement, we have won orders for 14 AgustaWestland vip-configured helicopters from various Russian customers, comprising five AW119 Kes, five AW109 Powers and four Grands."
Andrey Reus, general director, Oboronprom Corporation, says: "Multilayer cooperation with AgustaWestland means the involvement of the Russian helicopter industry moves into the international aviation cooperation system. It opens up the possibility of sharing expertise and technologies in helicopter production and high servicing standards and boosts the marketing of the helicopters produced in Russia throughout the world."
Helicopter assembly is also being ramped up in Poland to meet increasing demand. PZL-Swidnik's facility held a recent ceremony to mark the manufacture of the 200th AW139 airframe. But, since PZL-Swidnik and AgustaWestland started cooperation in 1996, PZL-Swidnik has manufactured nearly 800 airframes for AgustaWestland. PZL-Swidnik currently manufactures and assembles AW119 Ke, AW109 Power, AW109 LUH, Grand and AW139 airframes. At current production rates of 15 airframes per month it is expected that PZL-Swidnik will deliver the 1,000th airframe to AgustaWestland in the second half of 2009.
Eurocopter confirms that demand in Europe has been boosted by economic development in countries including Russia, Romania and Poland and the rising importance of business aviation in Spain and Ireland. Philippe Harache, a senior evp, says: "The Middle East also has markets with considerable potential for business and private helicopters. There is also the presence of an increasing number of high net worth individuals in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Norway."
The Finnish Border Guard, which is modernising and enhancing its fleet, has chosen the AW119 Ke. It has ordered three with an option for a fourth. The helicopters will be used for border patrol, special operations and firefighting. They are scheduled for delivery in 2010 and will operate from Helsinki and Rovaniemi (Polar Circle) bases, flying in the harshest environmental and weather conditions and covering the entire Russian border. Vice admiral Jaakko Smolander, head of the border guard, says the order followed a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process and the deal also includes a dedicated training and support package.
Meanwhile sales of Eurocopter helicopters increased from 83 in 2005, to 111 in 2006 and 168 in 2007. Harache says: "The customer base is multi-faceted ranging from private vip customers, some of whom are helicopter enthusiasts and pilots, and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to multi-national corporations." He adds: "The customer range is also highly demanding. High cruise speed, comfort, low noise signature, executive appearance and last but not least flight safety - these are all decisive purchase elements. In addition, for these corporate executives, it is the 'duty' of the helicopter manufacturers to keep up with the times and to equip the aircraft with the latest business and communication tools in order to optimise every single minute of their travelling time."
Safety innovations also feature. Safe Flight Instrument Corporation's Powerline Detection System (PDS) has been installed and successfully flight tested on the BK117 by Sterling Helicopters and EASA has issued the STC. Sterling Helicopters is based in Norfolk, East Anglia, but operates throughout the U.K. Founder and managing partner Gerry Hermer says: "The BK117 is a viable EMS helicopter platform and we see the PDS as an important safety tool for EMS pilots. Powerline strikes are a tremendous risk to even the most experienced pilots.
The PDS gives increased situational awareness when operating in the wire environment, providing our pilots with adequate time to avoid this potentially deadly hazard". The PDS aural warning increases in frequency (like a Geiger counter) as the helicopter gets closer to a live power line. A red warning light also flashes on the cockpit indicator. Separately, DART Helicopter Services has announced that its subsidiary Apical Industries Inc., has recently received EASA approval of its replacement emergency floats and inflation cylinder for the Eurocopter AS332C/L/L1. FAA and Transport Canada approvals had been previously received.
Meanwhile, further growth in U.K. helicopter demand is anticipated. Barclays Commercial Banking team has backed a management buyout (MBO) of Veritair Limited and the Cardiff Heliport with support from Gambit Corporate Finance and legal advice from Capital Law.
The MBO of Veritair and the Cardiff Heliport from British International by Capt. Julian Verity and his team has enabled Capt. Verity to buy back the business that he originally established during the early 1980s. Based two miles from Cardiff city centre, Veritair provides contractual helicopter and pilot services to customers such as QinetiQ for offshore missile retrieval at the MOD base at Aberporth and digital calibration services to the BBC nationally. The deal also includes the acquisition of three helicopters and use of an additional helicopter provided by non-executive director Prof. Jeremy Stone. Capt. Verity says: "The purpose-built and luxuriously furnished passenger and vip lounges at the heliport are ideally suited to serving the growing South Wales helicopter and business communities. This will be a key growth area for the business. The company is also about to launch a new training school for private and commercial helicopter pilots and has plans to introduce an instrument flight simulator on site."
Capt. Verity is a former employee of British International and a serving pilot with over 8,800 hours of flight experience. He says: "The U.K. helicopter fleet has expanded by over eight per cent during 2007 and demand for charter services for both business and pleasure is also growing."
Andrew Charter, a director with Gambit Corporate Finance, says: "Veritair is a first class business which had become a non-core activity of British International, which has chosen to focus its activities on servicing the offshore oil and gas industry. The business is ideally positioned to benefit from the growth in the helicopter sector."
Helitech 2008, reflecting the growth of business on the continent, is taking place in Portugal for the first time in October at Cascais airport, Estoril. Charter operators attracted include Helicopters Del Sureste and Heli Portugal. Eurocopter and Agusta Westland anticipate ramping up helicopter production to meet the demand in the longer established markets of the U.K. and western Europe and the newer markets of eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East.