MEBAA Convention News

Civil helo market growing in Mideast

 - November 10, 2008, 6:47 AM

Eurocopter (Chalet No. 33) is expecting that the Middle Eastern and North African markets will continue to grow in the coming years. Here in the Gulf region, the European manufacturer has sold its first EC 135 Hermès luxury twin.

Roughly speaking, Eurocopter sells between 35 and 50 civil helicopters per year in the region. There are 650 to 700 Eurocopters flying in the Middle East and North Africa, including military aircraft. “Civil sales is a newborn market. Traditionally, it used to be a government and military market,” Xavier Hay, Eurocopter’s v-p for Africa and the Middle East, told MEBA Convention News. “Air traffic deregulation has spurred the civil sector, with Dubai being at the spearhead.” Indeed the rapid expansion of the city of Dubai will, he anticipated, result in a need for more helipads.

According to Hay, Abu Dhabi is the next big prospect for civil helicopter market growth, expected to boom over the next three to five years. Next will come Sharjah, followed by other Gulf states such as Oman and Kuwait.

In Saudi Arabia, the civil helicopter market remains very small, Hay explained. “So far there is a need only for offshore transport. In the future, we hope the country will wake up to helicopter EMS [emergency medical services] and corporate/VIP flights,” he said.

The most popular Eurocopter models in this part of the world come from the Ecureuil family. “The EC 130 single is being used for executive charter and sightseeing,” Hay said. Moving up in the product range, he said Eurocopter has received “several” orders for the EC 135 in its $8 million Hermès variant, which features a luxury interior designed with help from the French fashion house. However, the company has officially confirmed only one order so far–the contract signed by Abu Dhabi-based operator Falcon Aviation Services (FAS).

Eurocopter also reported its four- to five-metric-ton Dauphin family is being sold in VIP variants with seating ranging from six to eight passengers. It also said the nine- to 11-metric-ton EC 225 Super Puma, with room for two separate areas in the cabin, has attracted head-of-state orders. So far, however, Hays noted there has been no order in the Middle East for the in-development EC 175.

The helo maker also foresees a market in North Africa because rotorcraft currently in service there are aging. Hays said it views offshore and pipeline surveillance operations as a prime source for new orders.

Hays also reported that Eurocopter has formed a 50-50 joint venture with FAS maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) in the Middle East. FAS can perform all MRO services on Eurocopter’s entire civil range, while in Algeria, maintenance firm Ermaero is authorized to maintain the Ecureuil family, he noted.