Latin American markets for different classes of new helicopters are recovering gradually following years of economic hardship experienced by some of the region’s major powers, according to François Haas, CEO of Safran Helicopter Engines Brasil.
Now in its 46th year of operations, the 174-employee company—which is based in Duque de Caxias in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area—oversees Safran Helicopter Engines’ customer support and MRO activities throughout Latin America. Haas told AIN that approximately 1,500 Safran Helicopters Engines (SHE) turboshafts are in service throughout the region, of which some 800 are flying in Brazil. In addition to operating its own MRO facility in Saõ Paulo state, Safran Helicopter Engines Brasil boasts a partner network of certified maintenance centers in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Panama, as well as a facility in southern Brazil and one in northern Brazil.
Haas said the markets for each helicopter class are recovering at different rates, but while the overall market “is not booming, it is slowly starting to recover.” Although “the VIP market for private helicopters has been really slow in the last three years due to the economic situation in different countries, it is starting to recover right now,” particularly because the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X is proving popular with Latin American operators.
“The new Bell 505 is starting to be sold with our Arrius [2R 504-shp] engine. It is a very competitive helicopter and it is selling at a very interesting price, lower than that for the [Airbus AS350] Ecureil,” said Haas. The new helicopter’s predecessor, the Bell 206 Jet Ranger, “was very successful in the Latin American market,” and many operators want to fly its successor. If the economic situation continues to recover, “we will [also] see some sales of the [847-shp Arriel 2B-powered] Ecureil, which is very popular in the VIP market,” he said. Additionally, “We are seeing that some VIP operators are interested in twin engines.”
Another promising VIP-market development for SHE Brasil is evolving in Saõ Paulo, famous for its wealthiest citizens’ practice of commuting between high-rise buildings and residential enclaves by helicopter to avoid the city’s badly jammed roads. “There are lots of helicopters, but their average age [in flying hours] is very low: they don’t fly much. So some people are trying to introduce a new concept of people sharing helicopters,” said Haas. “It’s not yet very popular but it could be interesting in the future. What is important [to SHE Brasil’s MRO and customer-support business] is not the number of helicopters flying, but how many flight hours they are operating.”
Meanwhile, the “parapublic” police and emergency services market for twin-engine helicopters is growing, “especially in big cities, to support the populations in cases of natural disaster,” said Haas. “We are seeing good sales in these segments for the Airbus H145,” which is powered by two 738-shp Arriel 1E2 engines.
However, the outlook is not as positive for sales of new helicopters to serve Latin America’s offshore oil-and-gas platforms, according to Haas. “It is still very low. It is starting slowly to recover, but it will never go back to the very good years of four to five years ago,” he said. “Companies are much more cost-oriented now.” Five years ago, “helicopters were flying to platforms even when they were not full. Now they fly only when they are full,” to keep operating costs down.
This is why “the S-76 in the [Latin American] oil-and-gas market is slowly fading out,” added Haas. (The Sikorsky S-76C+ is powered by two Arriel 1S1 engines and the S-76++ is powered by two Arriel 2S1s.) “It is being replaced by super-medium or heavy helicopters. The oil-and-gas market in Latin America sees a need for heavier helicopters,” able to carry more passengers and cargo than the S-76.
Meanwhile, Latin American markets for military helicopters “are linked to the availability of financial resources for the different countries,” he said. Because Latin America is not experiencing any major conflicts, national armed forces don’t need to buy many helicopters for "to go to war." Today’s military-helicopter acquisition in Latin America, he said, “is more oriented to providing protection against trafficking activities, such as arms trafficking.”
A few military acquisitions are occurring, but Haas said that because of budgetary constraints, Latin American military forces are strongly interested in engine retrofits. “We see some interesting programs,” as operators decide to retrofit and upgrade their existing helicopters after they have been in service for about 15 to 20 years. Many military operators in Latin America fly SHE-powered Airbus helicopters, particularly the AS365 Dauphin 2: among them are Brazil’s army, navy, and air force, Argentina’s coast guard, the Chilean navy, and the Mexican navy.
Both the Brazilian army and the Argentine coast guard decided to perform mid-life retrofits of their AS365s, replacing the helicopters’ original Arriel 1 engines with 852-shp Arriel 2Cs, according to Haas. “Retrofit is interesting for military operators because they can get an upgrade and fly again for 20 more years, at a lower cost than buying a new helicopter,” he said.
Particularly promising for SHE Brasil is the increasing interest Latin American operators are showing in subscribing to its power-by-the-hour MRO and fleet-management programs, according to Haas. “We have been actively working for 25 years to support our customers with the different power-by-the-hour programs we offer. We have very flexible solutions,” for which police forces and other parapublic operators and also military operators are becoming enthusiastic customers.
For instance, “In the police market, we have more than 100 engines in Brazil. Two years ago we had only one engine covered by a power-by-the-hour agreement. Now we have more than 50,” said Haas. Public-sector operators quickly become converts when they see that. If they have a PBH agreement with SHE Brasil, it will immediately replace an inoperative engine and a helicopter will remain flying instead of being grounded for months awaiting bureaucratic approval for an engine repair.
Similarly, five years ago, the Brazilian military contracted SHE Brasil to provide power-by-the-hour global support for the twin 2,382-shp Makila 2A1 engines powering the 50 Airbus H725M Super Cougars the government had contracted to license-build for the nation’s army, navy, and air force. “They renewed the contract a few months ago for five more years,” said Haas. “We signed the same kind of contract for the [H225Ms] for the Mexican Air Force in January, and we are actively working to bring some other military helicopters in Latin America under global-support contracts this year.”