Report: Offshore Helo Industry Headed for Crisis

 - March 30, 2023, 11:59 AM
A recent Air & Sea Analytics report addresses challenges facing the offshore helicopter industry and says the industry is "sleep-walking into a crisis." (Photo: CHC Helicopter)

A new report from consultancy Air & Sea Analytics paints a dire picture of challenges facing the offshore helicopter industry. The firm finds that “The ability of the industry to keep enough serviceable aircraft active to meet demand is now in question.” The company characterized the situation as “sleep-walking into a crisis,” saying, the scenario “has been developing over a period of years and it will take years to resolve.” Data supporting this conclusion comes from the consultancy’s upcoming "Heavy & Super-Medium [helicopter] Fleet Census."

“The challenge is that whilst we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of contracted aircraft in the heavy and super-medium segment, this is not translating yet into a comparable increase in aircraft flying," said the report. "Behind closed doors, operators are hugely frustrated that they cannot return aircraft to service due to supply-chain issues. Dynamic components such as main gearboxes and rotorheads are in short supply and lead times as long as four years are being quoted for some parts. At the present time, the industry is returning aircraft to the line only slightly quicker than they are coming off it,” Air & Sea Analytics warned. It concluded that within the next 12 months, “there will be end users that see lower availability of their service and interruptions to their crew change activity.” 

In particular, the company cites the closure of the Sikorsky S-92A production line for all of 2021 leading to 32 of the installed fleet of 165 being listed as inactive during the fourth quarter of 2022, with a significant number of these being utilized for parts and unlikely to return to service any time soon. 

While leasing companies are raising rates, they are reluctant to place significant new heavy rotorcraft orders post-pandemic due to a combination of sticker shock and lingering memories of recent offshore bankruptcies, which proved disastrous for the industry. The consultancy claims that the price of a new-build Sikorsky S-92A+ could top $40 million and that the Bell 525, expected to be certified later this year, could command a premium of up to 50 percent above other super-medium models, due to its advanced features including fly-by-wire flight control technology. Air & Sea Analytics predicts that oil companies will be hit by “substantial price increases and lower availability of aircraft.” It also pins the blame for the current situation squarely on those oil companies. 

“They created the conditions to preclude investment in this mission-critical industry,” previously imposing sometimes crippling price discipline on the offshore helicopter industry. “Discipline isn’t just about money. Discipline is making sure your people are safe. Discipline is making sure your people can rely on an aircraft being there for a ride to work and for a ride home.”