The Middle East helicopter market is “steady” according to Bell senior v-p for the commercial market Patrick Moulay. “It’s not [strong] like Asia and China, but it’s not shrinking like the U.S. and Latin America,” he said at MEBAA 2018. As helicopter sales are diversified among disparate markets, Moulay cited strong parapublic and military prospects for the region, more than he sees strength in the VIP corporate market.
“But with the Bell 505 and 525, we are well geared for when the VIP segment comes back,” he said. “At the low end, the 505 opens up the market for new customers—you can fly it for about $300 per hour—and we see it as growing the size of the industry.”
He also updated progress on the 525 Relentless at the other end of the product line. “We have four prototypes flying, and the certification effort is now down to primarily administrative work. We expect FAA certification by this time next year.” It has been a long journey for Bell, he said, but with its fly-by-wire controls, he sees a VIP niche for the 525 in the Middle East due to its passenger comfort. He also anticipates a role in the oil-and-gas industry in Kuwait, among other markets in the region.
Moulay said that a major focus at Bell is rebranding as a technology development company, not limited to the role of manufacturer. “Innovating how people fly and move goods is how we see shaping the industry of 20 years from now.”
Sameer Rehman, Bell managing director for the Middle East and Africa, reinforced Moulay’s view of the company’s product range, particularly in respect to its prospects for his territory. “The 505 and the 525 also give us a new-product roadmap. And innovation is technology, but it’s also people. Support, sales, and marketing and communication are key elements. We cannot afford to ‘wait and see.’ We need to invest,” he said.
Rehman also cited the upcoming Expo 2020 in Dubai as a pivotal event for the air-taxi market in the region. “There will be 20,000 to 40,000 people a day attending [and] some 25 million people shuttling [to and from] Expo over six months.” Developing the infrastructure and procedures to accommodate VIP traffic from major airports to the Expo site will form the basis for further developing the air-taxi model, worldwide. “We expect that the air-taxi industry will be viable by the mid-2020s,” he said.