Africa’s Pre-Owned Helicopter Market: Latest Trends

With the world finding its feet again, and in many cases working with a new post-Covid ‘normal’, Africa’s pre-owned helicopter market appears to be making a comeback. Rebecca Applegarth asks the industry experts for their observations…

Rebecca Applegarth  |  27th June 2023
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Rebecca Applegarth
Rebecca Applegarth

Rebecca Applegarth has been brought up around Aviation for as long as she can remember. As a current...

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How hot is the African pre-owned helicopter market

Gary Phillips is Executive Director for Rotorwing for NAC, which is active in Southern Africa where light single-engine turbines dominate the helicopter fleet. Specifically, “Demand for used Bell 407s in the region remains high,” he notes, resulting in their values increasing in the local market.

Cornéll Grové, Partner at Pacific Airhub agrees that the Bell 407 is in high demand, adding the Airbus H125 and H130 are also very popular models along with the Robinson R44 piston helicopter.

The upshot, Grové says, is that it is becoming increasingly challenging to acquire these models on the pre-owned market.

According to Phillips, the current demand for pre-owned helicopters is partly being driven by the long lead times for buyers to receive orders for new helicopters from the OEMs. But having established the demand is growing, is it evenly spread across the different sectors?

Corporate Use Leads Pre-Owned Helicopter Demand

“Africa is predominantly driven by both private aviation (high-net-worth individuals, corporations, businesses), and commercial helicopter operators,” says Nic Dorfling Operations and Fleet Manager at NEXT Aviation.

“With Africa’s access to natural resources and tourism being a key factor for the continent, the growth of these industries has had a noticeable increase in the corporate and VIP sectors of helicopter sales and operations,” he adds.

Specifically, “while the African market as a whole is stable in terms of helicopter sales…the corporate market would be the best performing segment right now if you had to single one out,” Grové notes. “Corporate and business users would naturally be looking for helicopters to reach remote places for business that would otherwise be too costly (time wise) to reach by road.”

Nevertheless, other sectors are also very active, according to Phillips who names the utility and tourism markets. “The Bell 206L series and 407 models are very popular in the tourism sector in particular,” he highlights.

Grové argues that the tourism/charter-related sales will really begin to show more prominently around September since that is when spring starts in Southern Africa (with the bulk of tourism aviation being in Cape Town).

One thing that can be agreed upon right now is that with aircraft import becoming more accessible and practical again, and the current exchange rate being favorable, the African helicopter market has seen an increase in the number of new and second-hand helicopters generally.

Where is the Current Helicopter Demand Focussed?

South Africa and Kenya remain the most active markets when considering where most helicopters are being bought and sold, Grové says, with the majority of sales companies being based, or having a presence, in these countries.

Dorfling agrees. “Kenya, with one of the biggest growth numbers in aviation in recent years has also been boosted by its tourism and its economy. The country has a thriving tourism industry, and helicopters are frequently used for sightseeing, transportation to remote locations, and luxury travel, helping to secure its status as a major player in the African aviation industry.

“Another major market in Africa is South Africa, with a long history [of helicopter utilization] and well-established infrastructure for maintenance, training, leasing, and charters,” he adds.

“As has always been the case, there are specific areas of activity – namely Cape Town, Maun and Victoria Falls for tourism, and the mining or agricultural areas, and seasonal firefighting activities for the utility operators,” Phillips highlights.

And mining and agriculture should come to mind, according to Grové, when considering the vast land mass that sectors like this take up, and the distance one would need to travel to get there from the main airports and cities.

“[Other] countries that play a significant role on the continent will be those with offshore operations of helicopters, including nations such as Nigeria, Angola and Egypt,” Dorfling notes, adding that with the current status of the oil and gas industries, and that of other natural resources, these booming economies have seen a huge increase in the requirement for utility and offshore helicopters alike.

Meanwhile, countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Ghana and Tanzania are emerging as potential markets due to their growing economies and various other industries, he says.

Grové agrees that Tanzania is a developing market to look out for, since the nation has a growing liquid natural gas industry, and interest is being expressed in getting helicopters into the country currently. And when considering growing economies, “another developing market is Namibia due to the growing offshore diamond market there,” he adds.

On the flip side, Mozambique, while being one of the biggest potential oil and gas suppliers to the world is an area Grové says has faced a downturn in helicopter buying activity. “This is largely due to the current insurgency threat the northern parts of the country faces, the results of which have meant big produces like Total suspending operations in some locations.”

African Helicopter Services and Support Infrastructure

Ongoing support is vital to any potential buyer of helicopters in Africa, and currently there are limited [maintenance] facilities available in Africa that are concentrated in the South and East of Africa, according to Phillips.

NAC is a Bell Customer service facility, and a Rolls-Royce 250 and 300 engine authorized maintenance centre located in Johannesburg, which “allows us to offer the full support package to Bell owners and operators in the region,” Phillips adds.

Service support hubs for helicopters are largely dependent on the geographic location and the type of business/industry being conducted in it, notes Grové. “For example, Johannesburg and Cape Town are your biggest hubs in South Africa and Wilson Airport in Kenya.”

This would be true for the majority of private helicopter types being flown in Africa. “You would also see service center hubs catering for offshore oil and gas helicopters in countries such as Nigeria (Lagos), Angola (Luanda) and Ghana (Accra),” Grové adds.

More information from:
NEXT Aviation:
Pacific Airhub:

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