HeliValue$: 'The Worst Helicopter Market in 40 Years'

 - July 27, 2020, 6:14 PM
Lessor Milestone Aviation has recently increased its already-large fleet of Sikorsky S-92 helicopters. [Photo: Milestone Aviation]

“It’s the worst helicopter market in 40 years.” That’s the blunt appraisal of Jason Kmiecik, president of aircraft pricing specialist HeliValue$, who told AIN that second-quarter 2020 transactions were down “drastically” from the first quarter. The leader of the rotorcraft appraisal and consulting firm blamed the plunge on a terrible trifecta of industry troubles, including Covid-19 pandemic proliferation, collapsing oil prices, and evaporating operator credit. “There’s just a lot of bad things going on. It’s a bad time for everybody,” he said.

Nevertheless, Kmiecik said there are some bright spots in a market that is otherwise a miasma of disappointment. Offshore operators could soon be saddled with fewer parked helicopters due to a series of new tenders floated by energy companies, a move that would benefit the values of large helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-92 and Airbus EC225.

Kmiecik said that helicopter lessor Milestone, with an eye toward future market recovery, already had taken advantage of depressed large helicopter prices to snap up several S-92s. GECAS unit Milestone already owns the world’s largest S-92 fleet.

Last month, Brazil’s Petrobras oil conglomerate launched four tenders in support of its exploration in the Campos and Santos basins. Previous new tenders this year have come from diverse locations such as Angola, Nigeria, Norway, and the UK North Sea. Additionally, more of Europe is turning to private helicopter companies to provide search and rescue services, with tenders pending in Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK for contracts that will begin as early as next year. The UK is looking to address closer to shore needs with its UKSAR2G program.  

Older generation intermediate twins such as the Bell 412 and Airbus EC155 and AS365 models are still seeing their values crushed as the Leonardo AW139 continues to be the aircraft of choice in that market, Kmiecik said. However, even the values of AW139s have not been unscathed by this market, he added. 

On the other hand, smaller helicopters, such as the Airbus EC135 and EC145 twins are holding their values well. Buyers are paying premiums in the face of increasing demand for used models of the type from air ambulance operators, who are responding to the increasing need for transport from rural areas with larger and more capable aircraft. The ubiquitous Airbus single, the AS350/H125 also is holding its value, Kmiecik said, but the original incarnation of its larger sibling, the EC130B4, is not as it is facing aging aircraft issues. Values for MD Helicopters series 500 singles are relatively strong in the face of short supply, as production of civil variants has all but evaporated as a consequence of that company’s ongoing success with foreign military sales. 

Nevertheless, from the perspective of HeliValue$, it firmly remains “a buyer’s market,” with purchasers in many instances offering depressed prices as they grapple with large unknowns.  “Buyers are being very cautious because of the uncertainty of what could happen three years from now,” Kmiecik said.