At a ceremony yesterday at the Bell Helicopter booth Waypoint Leasing signed a letter of intent for 20 Bell 525 Relentless helicopters, a deal that represents the largest commitment thus far for the still-under-development super-medium helicopter. “This landmark agreement is one of the largest commercial helicopter orders in Bell Helicopter’s 80-year history, and demonstrates that the marketplace recognizes the capabilities and unmatched value of the Bell 525 Relentless,” said Bell president and CEO John Garrison.
If the certification process goes smoothly for the 20,000-pound-class helicopter, which has yet to make its first flight, Waypoint CEO Ed Washecka told AIN he expects deliveries to his company to begin next year and spread over the course of four years. “It gives us a chance to get in early with a new model, do the leg work with Bell of marketing it to the user base and have some role in how that aircraft is going to be designed and fielded,” he said. Waypoint plans to provide the 525, which will be the first fly-by-wire commercial helicopter, to its customers in a wide variety of roles including oil and gas, aeromedical transport, search-and-rescue, firefighting and governmental support.
Ireland-based Waypoint was founded in 2013 with an initial $375 million in equity and has quickly grown to a portfolio of nearly 100 rotorcraft worth $1.1 billion, not to mention another billion dollars in pending orders and options. The company last week announced a deal in Nigeria, with Caverton Helicopters Limited taking leases on an AgustaWestland AW139 and a Bell 412EP for support of oil and gas operations. “This marks our first transaction in West Africa, which is already a significant helicopter leasing market and expected to continue growing long-term,” noted Washecka.
Given the recent turbulence in the petroleum market, he sees some effects swirling down to the rotorcraft market. “I think this year especially with oil prices coming off as much as they have, it will be tougher for some oil companies to make commitments. On the other hand it may accelerate the drive to phase out some of the older-technology aircraft that are potentially candidates to be replaced with aircraft like the Bell 525, the AgustaWestland AW189, the Airbus Helicopters EC175,” Washecka said.
“I think the uncertainty that some will see in the market, whether its oil prices or debt availability, will push some growth towards us and other leasing companies because it becomes prudent for an operator to have some of those aircraft on lease, shorter term, and it gives him the opportunity to hand those aircraft back if the contract is not renewed.”