Eased Restrictions Boost Rotorcraft Demand In Russia

 - September 26, 2012, 3:04 AM
Restrictions on operating helicopters are boosting sales prospects there for manufacturers like Agusta Westland.

Operating helicopters in Russia has become significantly easier in recent years and there is rising demand from the country’s fast-growing energy and utilities industries. Italian-UK manufacturer AgustaWestland believes it is well placed to benefit from both of these factors now it has established a local assembly line in Russia in order to avoid customers having to pay 20 percent import duty.

“It is getting easier to operate helicopters in Russia,” said Alberto Ponti, AgustaWestland’s head of the Russian regional market. “The main problem was getting permission to fly and this has been solved and the second problem is the need to develop infrastructure, which is also improving.”

Until recently, operators needed three separate permits to make a helicopter flight but now they simply have to notify authorities and do not have to wait for permission. However, flights are still banned inside Moscow’s ring road and manufacturers are working to get a flight corridor opened up into the city center. This change would likely further boost already strong demand for VIP-configured aircraft.

AgustaWestland has high hopes for selling its new family of AW139, AW169 and AW189 rotorcraft in Russia. In 2011, the country represented the company’s highest revenues for commercial aircraft sales.

“We are expecting to see even higher growth when the market fully recovers simply because Russia needs new aircraft to replace existing equipment,” Ponti told AIN. While acknowledging that Russia produces some fine helicopters itself, in his view, these are only suitable for some of the country’s required missions and operating environments. In particular, he said there is a vacuum in the supply of light helicopters for the Russian market.

In the country’s oil and gas sector, growing involvement by Western companies is driving requirements for Western aircraft to be flown in support of exploration and production. “The energy industry has the [profit] margins to support these [more expensive] aircraft and though the Western aircraft cost more to buy they are more efficient over the life of the aircraft,” explained Ponti.

AgustaWestland has completed construction of the new factory, 25 miles outside Moscow, where it is now building the first two locally-assembled AW139s, of which some 30 units have already been sold in Russia. The factory, located next to Mil’s helicopter design bureau, is now completing certification and the first aircraft should be delivered on time by the end of 2012.

Currently customer support is provided through existing operators like UTAir, which is involved in maintenance but also in providing trained pilots and mechanics. AgustaWestland also has plans to open a factory-owned service center in Russia as well as appointing another authorized service center.